Ndour, Senegal targeting top spots in the World Cup despite tough Dongguan challenge
DAKAR (Senegal) - There were significant changes inside the Senegal camp three weeks before the start of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, but the team's star and new skipper Muarice Ndour is still aiming big in China.
Senegal will face Canada, Lithuania and Australia in Dongguan in the so-called 'Group of Death', and for a team that amassed 10 wins out of 12 African Qualifier games the primary goal remains intact under the newly-appointed head coach Moustapha Gaye.
"WE ALL WANT TO HAVE A GOOD TOURNAMENT, GO AS FAR AS WE CAN. WE DON'T PROMISE THE SEMI-FINAL, BUT WE ARE GOING TO DO EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER TO FINISH AS ONE OF THE TOP TEAMS IN THE WORLD CUP."
"Despite some challenges we have been through in the past couple of weeks, we are in good spirits individually and I feel that everybody on our team is ready for the tournament to start," Ndour told FIBA.basketball before their scheduled flight to China.
Ndour and Co won't necessarily be in an unfamiliar territory in Dongguan as they faced Canada three years ago at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila and made their reintroduction to the basketball world in style five years ago in Spain.
Now, the man who who has been named Senegal captain insists they will fight until the last second of the games to stay in the competition as long as they can despite being the lowest-ranked team (37th in the FIBA World Ranking, presented by NIKE) in their group.
"Everybody knows that this is the toughest group in the entire tournament, but we'll focus on producing our best performances," the 2.06m (6ft 9in) forward stressed.
"We are used to being counted out by other teams and we are used to being the underdogs. We have been in this situation before, but other teams will need to be better than us on the court. I am sure those games will go down to the wire. At the end of the day we are all professional basketball players, the rankings don't matter. Canada, Australia and Lithuania are incredibly good teams."
But what kind of team is Senegal taking to China?
🇸🇳 Senegal's final roster is out! #FIBAWC #SenegalGotGame— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) August 16, 2019
➡ https://t.co/7YDbKH0t46 pic.twitter.com/HLiGpe9I4z
"We are a group of 12 competitors and that includes a few young guys who haven't played at the World Cup before. And for the youngsters on the team they will have a lot to learn from this World Cup, which will prepare them for next big tournaments such as the 2021 African Championship or Olympic Games," Ndour explained.
"I salute coach 'Tapha', and I am sure he will do his best. It’s not an easy scenario for him being appointed at last-minute," Ndour acknowledged.
If Senegal are to advance to the Second Round of the tournament, they will need to finish in the first two places of Group H. That's doable, Ndour seems to think.
"In the back of our minds we all want to have a good tournament, go as far as we can. We don't promise the Semi-Final, but we are going to do everything in our power to finish as one of the top teams in the World Cup and, obviously, we want to continue that in the Olympics next year.
Ndour continued: "I hope to go to the Olympics in Japan where I played high-school and link up again with my former teammates, coaches and professors."
The teams that finish in the first two places of Group H will then move to Group L in Nanjing where they will go up against the top-two teams from Group G, featuring France, Germany, Dominican Republic and Jordan.
COUPE DU MONDE #CHINE2019— BASKET-BALL SÉNÉGAL (@FSBBOFFICIEL) August 4, 2019
DISCOURS DU CAPITAINE MAURICE NDOUR QUI MOTIVE LES LIONNES #SenegalGotGame #FIBAWC #kebetu #Tl221 #Basketball #SEN #SÉNÉGAL #Afrobasketwomen2019 pic.twitter.com/SPLUSWzZ25
Speaking about his new role on the team, the 27-year-old vows to be a vocal leader and inspire his teammates.
"My role as the national team captain is quite significant but it will be even more when I will be able to change things. I want to help the players focus and perform better by working towards putting them in the best conditions," he said.
"People tend to perform when they are working in happy, stable and stress free environment. It's not the two-hours practice that's important, but it's how you approach practice and the things you do to get your body and mind ready for it. Same goes as a team."