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Fernando hopes to put Angola back on the Olympic track
ATLANTA (USA) - Having played in a FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament before, Angola rising star Bruno Fernando now knows what it takes to succeed in such an important event much better.
It was the summer of 2016, and Fernando - a month away from his 18th birthday - was making his debut with the senior team in Belgrade, Serbia.
The Angolans were attempting to return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, but taking on the hosts and Puerto Rico proved to be a tall order for them, with Serbia going on to secure the only available slot for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"IT WOULD BE AMAZING TO HAVE ANGOLA DOING WELL IN KAUNAS AND REACH A SPOT FOR TOKYO 2020."
And although the Angolans fell short, Fernando, who averaged 3.5 points and 5 rebounds in that tournament as a teenager says it was a learning experience that he won't forget any time soon.
As Angola prepare to make an Olympic Qualifying Tournament return in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, set to take place from June 23-28, the Atlanta Hawks rookie shared a message with his Angola national team teammates.
"The goal is to take it one step at a time, and to play every game like it is a Final," Fernando told FIBA.basketball.
Angola will take on Slovenia and Poland in Group B while hosts Lithuania will go up against Korea and Venezuela in Group A, with the teams crossing over for the Knock-Out Round. The winners of the four tournaments (also Belgrade, Split and Victoria) will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
#Angola vai jogar em Junho o Torneio Pre-Olimpico de #Tokyo2020 em Kaunas, na #Lituania, ditou hoje o sorteio da @FIBA.— Angola Basketball (@AngolanBasket) November 27, 2019
O sorteio colocou Angola no Grupo B que inclui a #Polonia e a #Eslovenia de Luka Doncic @luka7doncic. #CoreiadoSul, #Venezuela e Lituania no Grupo A. 🇦🇴🇦🇴🏀 pic.twitter.com/645G6ay02H
"It's a tough group," Fernando admitted.
What's Fernando assessment of both Poland and Slovenia?
"Poland had a great run at the last World Cup and they have a lot of experience by participating very frequently in this kind of international tournaments. They have solid players who are in great European teams, and they are competitive.
"Slovenia is also very good, and if they are able to get Luka Doncic to be part of the team, they are going to be a really, really, dangerous team to compete against," the first Angolan to be drafted to the NBA explained.
Bruno Fernando seen here in action against Serbia
It is the Angolans' third straight Olympic Qualifying Tournament presence, having done so in 2012 in Caracas, Venezuela, and Belgrade four years ago.
For a country who dominated the African basketball scene and played in five straight Olympics dating back to 1992, missing the last three editions of the tournament has become a reality that few saw coming.
Yet, Bruno who was a 10-year-old when his country last featured in the tournament in 2008 in Beijing, remains adamant that things could chance for good for the Angolans.
Bruno Fernando helped Angola win the 2016 FIBA Africa U18 Championship in Kigali, Rwanda
"The main thing is to have the best team possible and to have everyone healthy," the 2,06m (6ft 9in) power forward stressed, adding.
"We know that we can play at a good level, and that we have talented players that can help Angola shine at the highest level. It would be amazing to have Angola doing well in Kaunas, and reach a spot for Tokyo 2020. I am not saying it would be easy, but everything is possible. It would be a fantastic achievement to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and the team isn't going to Lithuania for fun. The goal is to go there to win and to compete for the Tokyo spot. Everyone in the country wants to see Angola do well, and going to the Olympics would be so good for the people and for all of us in the national team."
Looking back at his OQT debut four years ago, Fernando described it as a learning experience that helped him grow both as a man and a player.
"I was very young, and playing against top national teams was great, I really gained so much experience in so little amount of time. I did some quick fouls, and it was sometimes hard to compete against some players at this level, but I learned a lot about my game and what I had to work on during this experience," he said.