"We know we can do better, and we will do better", says Senegal's new head coach DeSagana Diop
HOUSTON (USA) - Former Senegal international player DeSagana Diop has replaced Boniface Ndong as Senegal head coach, and he hopes to relaunch his country's campaign in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers.
Currently an assistant coach with the NBA Houston Rockets, Diop will have his first job as head coach of the Lions later this month during Window 4 of the African Qualifiers.
From August 26-28, Senegal will go up against reigning African champions Tunisia, South Sudan and Cameroon in Monastir, Tunisia in the first round of Group F.
Senegal, who featured in the last FIBA Basketball Cups in 2014 and 2019 are 3-3 in Group F with six games in the World Cup African Qualifiers.
The 12-year NBA veteran Diop, who last represented his country at 2009 FIBA AfroBasket in Libya, was Ndong's assistant at AfroBasket last year where Senegal finished third.
Before joining the Rockets in 2020, the 40-year-old served was an assistant with the Utah Jazz.
Dong and Senegal Basketball Federation parted ways in early July after Senegal's 1-2 mark in Alexandria, Egypt.
Diop took some time off to talk to FIBA.basketball.
Q. DeSagana Diop, you took over the position of Senegal’s national team head coach. How are you feeling about it?
A. I feel great and very honored to be the new head coach of the national team, and I am very excited for the challenge. I am going to be very involved in the process of making the team better and get the guys ready for the next qualifying window that is going to be very, very important for us and for Senegalese basketball. It has been an interesting process so far, and I am going to give my best to succeed in my mission, which is one of the most important I am facing in my young coaching career so far. To be coaching the national team of my country is a mission that I take very seriously, and I want to help our national team win and qualify for the FIBA World Cup.
Under Boniface Ndong Senegal finished 1-2 after losses to DR Congo and Egypt in July
Q. You are replacing your friend Boniface Ndong, that got fired about the last qualifying window and two losses…
A. When I got called for the position, I had to talk to my friend Boniface and explain to him why I felt grateful and ready for the position, as he is a good friend of mine and I am the kind of person that is transparent and clear with my friends. It was important for me, and important to have a conversation with him about my new job replacing him. I learned a lot being an assistant coach of the national team, and now I am going to embrace this challenge and put a lot of work toward succeeding in my mission. For my country, I am going to give everything I can to make the team competitive and win in order to make everyone proud.
Q. Senegal have lost two games, against RD Congo and Egypt in the last window, which was not the best showing for one of Africa’s powerhouses.
A. It was tough to lose those two games, and we know that we can do way better than what we did in July. We have to learn from those games, and move on in order to be ready for the next window that is going to be crucial for us, as we aren't in the ideal position in our group. You live, you learn, that is what I told the players and I also told them to focus on the August window and to play like warriors. We are on a mission, we are hungry to succeed and to win games and qualify for the next FIBA World Cup. That is where we belong and we have to do great in the next games. We don’t have any other option, we have to win.
Mamadou Gueye is reportedly continuing as assistant coach
Q. What kind of philosophy are you bringing to the national team?
A. I was a very defensive player, so the priority is to bring a lot of intensity in defense to build the main pillar of the team. The game is getting more and more physical, and you start winning games by playing very good defense in order to limit the impact of the opponents and set the tone for the rhythm of the game. It's very, very important to be very good defensively because we have to make the most of the next coming games, as we have to win no matter what to keep our hopes to qualify for the the FIBA World Cup. We are not in the position we want to be, so we have to change our dynamic and win again. For this kind of change, you need to defend hard, and give it all on the court, and that is what we are going to do from now on.
Q. South Sudan, Tunisia and Cameroon are going to be the opponents in this last group stage. What do you think about those teams?
A. They are very good teams, and we will have to bring our A-game in order to win against them. South Sudan is on top of the group and has been very impressive in this qualifying campaign so far, by winning every game and being on top of the group. They have been improving a lot, and they are going to come to play with full confidence. It's a very good team.
Tunisia is one of the continent powerhouses, and they have a lot of experience, so they have a lot of strengths. Cameroon still has hopes to qualify, so we will have to be focus and play very well to win, as they are going to try to make the best of the opportunity of being in the last round of qualifiers. It's going to be a very intense six-game cycle, but we will be ready for the challenge and to punch a ticket to qualify for the World Cup.
DeSagana Diop (left) is seen here in action against the Central African Republic at the 2009 African Championship
Q. The first game is against South Sudan, on August 26.
A. We start against the best team of the group so far, so we will be directly facing a tough opponent. We will have to be 100 percent focused and ready for the battle, and we will be ready, I am sure about that. They play very well, and both Luol Deng and the staff have been doing a very good job in the last couple of years building a very good national team. We want to do great, and we will prepare for this game the best way.
Q. Senegal have been a powerhouse in Africa for a while now. How do you feel seeing the national team being in that position before the last two windows of the qualifying campaign for the 2023 FIBA World Cup?
A. We know we can do better, and we will do better. There is no need to be looking behind us, we have to look forward and be focus on the next upcoming games and be the best team we can be. Senegal is one of the best teams in the continent, and we have to show that we are very competitive all the time, and qualify for every major tournament. We want to qualify for the next FIBA World Cup, that is where we belong and we are going to fight hard as we still can punch a ticket. Believe me, we are 100 percent eager to do so, and we will fight hard during every game to win and qualify. We are Senegal, we have to make our people proud and show that we are one of the best teams of the continent.
Q. When you see counties like South Sudan, Nigeria, Cape Verde and Uganda for example, improving a lot in the last couple of years, how do you feel about the dynamic of African basketball?
A. I really like what I witness, and I am happy to see that many teams are doing well and growing fast lately. It's very good for our sport in the continent, and also to show that there is talent everywhere. The level of competitiveness is growing fast and very well, and that is only a big plus for all of us Africans. It's a great constructive and positive sign for the future, and it also shows that the spots to qualify for international competitions are going to be harder and harder to get because more teams now can qualify for Olympic games or World Cup for example. Africa's basketball is growing and being more competitive year after year, we have to be happy about this dynamic and look forward for the future.