Xavier comes out of retirement, joins Tavares on special mission for Cape Verde
PRAIA (Cape Verde) - When the FIBA Basketball World Cup dominates the conversation amongst one of Cape Verde's most talented generations, it seems to raise a question: "If not now, when?"
With four wins in seven games, and three games left, Cape Verde are in contention for one of the remaining four World Cup tickets for African teams.
"I WAS CONVINCED THAT I WASN'T THE PLAYER I ONCE WAS AND COULD'NT HELP THE TEAM THE WAY I WANTED TO, BUT I WAS WRONG AND NOW I AM HERE TO MAKE US A BETTER TEAM."
If the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde finish in the first two places of Group E or claim the best-third place record of the African Qualifiers, they will secure the archipelago's first-ever World Cup ticket. But if they don't, it's likely going to be end of the road for some of the players who did the impossible to keep Cape Verde's flag flying high in the African basketball scene over the past few years.
Two years ago they were close to improving from the Third-Place accomplished at 2007 AfroBasket, but a Semi-Final loss to eventual champions Tunisia, which was followed by another defeat to Senegal in the Third-Place game relegated Cape Verde to a Fourth-Place at 2021 FIBA AfroBasket.
Why would an unsuccessful run in Window 6 mark the end of an era for Cape Verde? Because of the team's age factor.
Mendonca (38), Joel Almeida (37), Ivan Almeida (33), Shane Da Rosa (34) appear to be looking at their next three games in Luanda as a lifetime opportunity to bear the country's flag even higher.
And, when local media outlets reported Cape Verde's preliminary roster last week, two names resonated more than others.
37-year-old Jeff Xavier played the first three games of the African Qualifiers in November 2021, but called it a career a few months later.
But when coach Emanuel Trovoada reached out Xavier for another shot, the shooting guard who had last played for Unicaja Banco Oviedo from Spain's LEB Gold last May, thought it was an opportunity to give his country a chance on a special mission.
Joining Xavier in Cape Verde's roster is seven-footer center Walter Edy Tavares, who has never hidden his intentions of helping his native Cape Verde make it to the World Cup.
"I am very happy to be back playing with my national team and I am here only to help my country get the to the World Cup," Xavier told FIBA.basketball. "It will be one of the best accomplishments in my life so I want to challenge myself."
Xavier recorded 12.7 points per game early in the African Qualifiers.
The prospect of helping his country make history, Xavier insists, is worthy a sacrifice. "I played while I was in the United States but of course it wasn't the same. I just have to get my timing of the game and from there I think I will be fine."
In a remarkable performance last August that could have had serious implications in the African Qualifiers process, Cape Verde rallied from a 20-point deficit to just five with two minutes left, but Cote d'Ivoire prevailed (77-69) to become the first African team to qualify for the World Cup.
For the islanders there's still a sense of unfinished business.
"I should have gone to the last window we had in august, but I was convinced that I wasn't the player I once was and couldn't help the team the way I wanted to, but I think I was wrong and now I am here to make us a better team and do my best possible to get us into the World Cup," Xavier explained.
Cape Verde will take on hosts Angola, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea and in an attempt to write a new chapter in their basketball history.
"It is going to be very, very tough and we expect them to have their best players and they will play hard because we are fighting for a spot in the World Cup which there is no greater tournament," Xavier observed.