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Things to know about African teams at FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019
LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - It all started back in November 2017 with sixteen African nations battling it for the right to represent the continent at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, starting Saturday August 31, but it's Tunisia, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Angola and Nigeria who earned the right to carry the African flag there.
How far can the quintet go in China? Will they become punch bags in the tournament? Or, can any of the five teams become a surprising package in China? These are some of the most frequently asked questions I found on social media platforms in recent weeks.
Obviously if one asks any of the aforementioned questions to fans from those five countries chances are they might come up with some jaw-dropping answers. That doesn't mean that the world can't finally witness an African team lifting the champion trophy (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup finalist Mali have recently shown how far African basketball came), but fans sense that the future of the game in the continent is brighter than ever.
Basketball has changed for good across the globe in recent years, and Africa was no different. And in today's column I'll try to highlight important things to know about the five African teams in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
The Ivoirians return to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the third time after participations in 1982 (Colombia) and 1986 (Spain).
Charles Abouo, Guy Edi, Mohamed Kone, Herves Lamizana and Souleyman Diabate, all featured for the 'Elephants' in the 2010 edition of the tournament in Turkey, and are set to return this week in Beijing where they will take on Group A opposition China, Poland and Venezuela.
Italian Paolo Povia took the helm of the team right before the start of the African Qualifiers in November 2017. Povia is based in Switzerland where he runs youth basketball programmes.
American-born Deon Thompson has filled in the naturalised spot just a few months before the start of the World Cup, and is expected to provide crucial help in the painted area.
In his resume, the 30-year-old - who featured for the USA in the FIBA U19 Basketball 2007 along the likes of Stephen Curry, DeAndre Jordan and Patrick Beverley - adds his decade-long of European basketball experience.
Cote d'Ivoire secured the last China 2019 ticket on offer for African teams in the last window of the African Qualifiers held in their largest city of Abidjan, where they outplayed then-unbeaten Nigeria 72-46.
Confidence and desire to shock the world are some attributes that Ivorian players and coaching staff have been dreaming of in recent weeks and months.
The eleven-time African champions may not have rising stars Bruno Fernando of the Atlanta Hawks and Kansas University forward Silvio De Sousa, but they aren't short in experienced players.
Angola return to the tournament for the fifth straight time, a record for an African team. Five players - including Carlos Morais, Eduardo Mingas, Leonel Paulo, Reggie Moore, Hermenegildo Mbunga and Olimpio Cipriano have all represented their country at least once at FIBA's biggest competition in recent 17 years.
They are coached by American Will Voigt, a man credited for leading Nigeria to their first-ever African Championship title in 2015.
When the reigning African champions made their FIBA Basketball World Cup debut ten years ago, they returned home empty-handed after losing all their five games in Turkey.
Half of the 2010 Tunisian team, including Makram Ben Romdhane, Radhouane Slimane, Salah Mejri, Mohamed Hadidane, Nizar Knioua and Mokhtar Ghyaza are back for the 2019 China showdown.
The Tunisians are coached by a familiar face, Portuguese-Angolan Mario Palma, who is set to make his third FIBA Basketball World Cup appearance after leading Angola (2002) and Jordan (2010).
The Tunisians won ten of their twelve games to qualify for China, where they will go up against Spain, Iran, and Puerto Rico in Group C in Guangzhou.
The North Africans spent over two months preparing for the World Cup, and as Palma puts it: "We need to sacrifice some time with our families to achieve great things in life. Since my appointment in 2017, everything is going according to plan: We won the African Championship; We have qualified for the World Cup, and more importantly, we want to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, that's why this tournament means so much to us."
Ever since shooting guard Michael Roll debuted for the North Africans in 2015, he has been a crucial piece offensively, and it wouldn't really be a surprise if the 1.93m (6ft 3in) guard inspires his team to new heights.
Over the course of the African Qualifiers, head coach Alexander Nwora used 27 players, but only seven of them made it to China. Meanwhile, Nwora, who took over right before the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket, brought in five new faces including Chimeze Metu, Vincent Nnamdi, Michael Eric, Udoh Ekpe and Joshua Okogie.
It's Nigeria's first FIBA Basketball World Cup appearance since 2006, and the No.1 team in Africa (No. 33 in the World), Nigeria have high hopes in China. To reach the Quarter-Finals would be historic, but Nwora and Co aim a lot more than that.
Both Ike Diogu (the only player to have appeared in all 12 African Qualifiers games) and Al-Farouq Aminu remain as the only players from the Nigerian team that shocked the world seven years ago when they beat Greece, the Dominican Republic and Lithuania in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela to advance to the 2012 London Games.
Nigeria will play Argentina, Korea and Russia in Group B in Wuhan.
The last-minute appointment of head coach Moustapha Gaye and the absence of stalwart Gorgui Dieng, Maleye Ndoye and Thierno Niang have definitely reshaped Senegal's current lineup.
They kept nine players who helped them win ten of their twelve African Qualifier games, and after a slow start to their preparations, they registered two straight warm-up games wins last week against Jordan (69-64) and Puerto Rico (90-61). They look good and appear to have regained confidence ahead of the tournament.
And after becoming one of the pleasant surprises at 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, the Senegalese believe they can still do some damage in China.
BEST FIBA BASKETBALL WORLD CUP RESULT BY AN AFRICAN TEAM
Over the past few decades, African teams looked at FIBA's flagship tournament as a learning platform, but there seems to be a different and more ambitious approach ahead of this year's event.
Back in 1950, Egypt, who had qualified to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Argentina as the champions of the 1949 European Championship, finished in Fifth-Place.
And more recently, in 2006, Angola finished ninth, the best result by and African team in last four decades.
Only one team can win the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 title, and for those who don't, there's a consolation of qualifying to next year's Tokyo Olympics. For Africa, the team that registers the best result, earns direct qualification for Tokyo.
CLICK HERE to find out more about the latest preparation games results.
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