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45 Astou Ndour (ESP)
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Spain's unlikely hero Ndour exceeded expectations

RIO DE JANEIRO (Rio 2016 Olympic Games) - There was a sense of disappointment among Spanish fans when Sancho Lyttle was ruled out of the Rio Olympics

However, her replacement, Astou Ndour surpassed all expectations. Ndour, who turned 22 on Monday, not only played a major role in helping Spain claim their first ever Olympics medal, but she also became the team's unlikely hero. 

Although Alba Torrens led the team in scoring with 16.4 points per game, the 1.96m center Ndour came up big, energising the South Europeans with 13.2 points, 8.2 rebounds per contest and a team-high 18 efficiency rate per game. 

In fact, the San Antonio Stars center did what everyone expected Lyttle to do as Spain returned home with a silver medal after conceding a 101-72 defeat to the USA in the Gold Medal Game.

Spain won their first-ever Olympic medal in Rio 2016

How Ndour's journey to become an Olympian occurred was what some would describe as a true rollercoaster.

“I was in San Antonio and I had to make a last-minute travel to Spain. I feel sorry for her [Sancho Lyttle] but this is what the basketball world is like," she said. "I am not taking the responsibility of becoming her [Lyttle] because we are two different type of players. Lyttle is more experienced than me, and I just joined the team to play to the best of my capabilities.

“Before I joined the team I heard rumours that I was going to be called up. I kept saying that I didn’t know anything. When the team captain [Laia Palau] and [head coach] Lucas [Mondelo] reached me out, it was a dream come true for me, knowing that I was going to become an Olympian. I was really happy, I started screaming with joy."

She first represented Spain in junior FIBA tournaments. They included the 2011 and 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championships, where Ndour was named to the All-Tournament team alongside USA’s Breanna Stewart both times.

In Rio, Ndour experienced mixed feelings when Spain took on Senegal in the Group Phase. Ndour had never faced her native country before, but the Dakar-native ensured to remain focused, finishing with her Rio Olympics-high 18 points and 12 rebounds as Spain cruised to a 97-43 triumph over the Western Africans.

“Senegal was where I was born, and because of this I will always be grateful to my country and I feel proud to be from Africa,” Ndour said. “But representing Spain means that I will be able to represent my country that gave me the opportunity to become a professional basketball player. Spain gave me the resources to achieve my goals, and this is something I will never forget.”

It was a childhood dream turned reality for the Senegal-born player who moved to Spain in 2009.