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Highlights of African basketball in 2020
LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - The latest FIBA World Ranking update provided a relatively new picture of African basketball in a year marked by uncertainty.
Some so-called small national teams made extraordinary gains, an indication of how the game has changed over the past twelve months.
Here are some of the highlights of African basketball in 2020.
Twenty national teams competing for a place at next year's AfroBasket visited three different Africa cities: Yaounde (Cameroon), Alexandria (Egypt) and Kigali (Rwanda) to conclude the First Round of the African Championship Qualifiers.
In February, the Cameroonian capital hosted Group C, where Cote d'Ivoire won all three games against hosts Cameroon (2-1), Equatorial Guinea (1-2) and Guinea (0-3).
Nine months later, the coastal city of Alexandria witnessed hosts Egypt top Group E thanks to victories over Uganda (2-1), Cape Verde (1-2) and Morocco (0-3).
In Kigali, Rwanda, reigning African champions Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal - all three teams led by new coaching staff - dominated their respective groups after winning all three of their Group Phase games.
And although Nigeria remain as Africa's No.1 team, the former FIBA AfroBasket champions improved one place to become No.22 in the world ahead of Iran.
Angola, Tunisia, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt and Cameroon saw their positions unchanged at continental and world level compared to the previous Ranking update in March 2020.
While Morocco and Mali remain among Africa's Top-10 national teams, the two teams dropped two and one place, respectively in the World Ranking category, with former dropping to No. 69 and Mali to No.75.
The Central African Republic (CAF) who one of their three AfroBasket Qualifiers games last month improved five places to No.78 in the world while keeping their Top-10 status in Africa.
Just like CAF, DR Congo, winners of two of three Group A games, leapt five places to become No.84 in the world while retaining their 11th position in Africa.
Cape Verde claimed a 1-2 record in the opening of the AfroBasket 2021 Qualifiers, and as a result, became one of the biggest winners in the latest ranking update, climbing three places from 15th to 12th. At world level, Cape Verde moved from 97th to 94th.
Ugandans haven't missed a FIBA AfroBasket since their debut in the tournament in 2015
Meanwhile, host of the FIBA AfroBasket 2021, Rwanda lost all three Qualifiers games, and, as a result, dropped one place No.13, while Mozambique plummeted to 14th.
Winners of two Group E games so far, Uganda improved two places to No. 15, while Algeria, who pulled out of the Qualifiers, fell one position to No.17
Relatively unfamiliar to international basketball, South Sudan were the overall biggest winners from the latest FIBA World Ranking, climbing incredible nine positions. The South Sudanese, winners of two of three Qualifiers games so far, are now No.16 in Africa and 98th in the world.
South Sudan have reasons to celebrate after climbing an incredible nine positions
South Sudan's East Africa rivals Kenya beat Mozambique last week to finish with a 1-2 record in Group B, and as a result, Kenya improved seven positions to become Africa's No. 20.
On the other hand, Madagascar, who returned home with three Group A defeats in as many games, dropped 30 places to 124th in the world.
Libya, who last featured at FIBA AfroBasket when they hosted the tournament in 2009, remain bottom of the African charts at No. 38.
Click here to view the full FIBA World Ranking Men.
Meanwhile, in youth competitions, hosts Egypt stunned Mali - who sought their fourth straight continental trophy - in the final of the three-team FIBA U18 Women's African Championship, and as a result of reaching the final, both teams advanced to next year's FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup.
In the four-nation FIBA U18 African Championship, Mali caused quite a stir after edging Senegal in the final.
Mali won their second straight FIBA U18 African Championship in December in Cairo
What made Mali's triumph even more special was the fact that they reached the Championship Game on the back of three Group Phase defeats, but wins over Egypt in the Semi-Final followed by a triumph against Senegal in the last day of the tournament reflected the Malians' grip when it mattered most.
After finishing second at FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year, Mali return to the competition as two-time African champions.
There is lot more to come next year with Angola, Senegal and Tunisia trying their fortune in three FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournaments as they attempt to join Nigeria in Tokyo.
And 2021 is the year that Nigeria will become the first African country to feature both of its national teams at the Olympics when the Tokyo Games get underway.
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