Qualified Team Focus - Cote d'Ivoire: Elephants ready to finally leave mark
MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, presented by Wanda, will be held in Manila, Philippines, on April 29. It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months.
Here is the number 42 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, two-time FIBA AfroBasket champions and four-time runners-up Cote d'Ivoire.
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How did they qualify
Cote d'Ivoire came into the African Qualifiers with a target on their backs after they rolled through the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 only to lose 78-75 in the Final to Tunisia.
With the goal clearing to get back to the World Cup after playing there in 2019, Ignacio Lezkano was at the coaching helm but the Spaniard would be replaced by Slovenian Dejan Prokic in the fall of 2022.
The coaching change did not impact the Elephants' play as Cote d'Ivoire became the first African team to qualify for the World Cup with a full window to spare. Cote d'Ivoire had been the final African team to qualify for the World Cup in 2019.
The Elephants opened the African Qualifiers Group C in stunning fashion in the November 2021 window in Angola, giving up the first 16 points against Angola and falling behind 20-3. Cote d'Ivoire fought back and Maxence Dadiet tipped in the game-winner with 6 seconds left for a 57-56 victory - becoming the first team to beat Angola in Angola in more than three decades. Dadiet and Souleyman Diabate both scored 15 points.
The Elephants' second game saw 18-year-old Assemian Moulare hit 4 three-pointers in scoring 20 points and Stephen Konate had 19 points in a 92-64 win over Central African Republic. And Vafessa Fofana tallied 16 points in an 80-69 win over Guinea.
Cote d'Ivoire hosted the second window in July 2022 in Abidjan without Diabate but with Matt Costello - one of the heroes of the AfroBasket run. The first game was another showdown with Angola and the Elephants raced ahead by 15 points and lost the lead. Cote d'Ivoire managed to win 75-73 thanks to Moulare hitting 5 three-pointers for 25 points and Dadiet had 15 points.
The team made it 5-0 with a 73-63 win over Central African Republic as Dadiet had 19 points and Costello collected 8 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Cote d'Ivoire needed to come back in the final game of the window, trailing 14-2 but winning 65-56 over Guinea thanks to Costello picking up 12 points and 9 rebounds.
The Cote d'Ivoire federation in August 2022 temporarily replaced Lezkano with Prokic as head coach for the window - played once again in Abidjan. Diabate was back at point guard and Alex Poythress had joined the team in the middle for the start of Group E play in the Second Round. Cote d'Ivoire pulled away in the final 15 minutes and beat Nigeria 78-66 with Fofana tallying 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Poythress led the way in the second game - a 91-80 win over Uganda - with 24 points and 8 rebounds while Fofana netted 18 points and Diabate had 13 points and 11 assists.
The final game of the window saw the Elephants get past Cape Verde 77-69 to book their ticket to the World Cup. Both Poythress and Konate scored 16 points.
Prokic in September 2022 was officially given the head coaching job and he went into the final window in February 2023 wanting to see some youngsters - bringing four teenagers for the games in Angola.
Lacking the sense of urgency, Cote d'Ivoire dropped their first game of the window, 72-63 to Nigeria despite Jean-Phillipe Dally scoring 19 points, Fofana adding 12 points and 10 rebounds and Diabate chipping in 11 assists.
Sire Dieng scored 23 points with 8 assists as the Elephants bounced back with an 89-44 drubbing of Uganda.
And the African Qualifiers ended with a second defeat as the Elephants lost a 13-point lead with Cape Verde winning 79-64 to book their ticket to the World Cup.
Best result at the World Cup
Cote d'Ivoire will be appearing on the global stage for the fifth time and the second straight. It is the second time the Elephants made back-to-back World Cups following 1982 and 1986.
Cote d'Ivoire finished 13th in both tournaments in the 1980s - with 13 teams in 1982 and of 24 teams in 1984 (albeit with no differentiation of the bottom 12 teams) for their best-ever results. They took 21st of 24 teams in 2010 and 29th of 32 nations at China 2019.
Cote d'Ivoire and their only World Cup win over Puerto Rico
Last World Cup appearances
After not winning a game in 1982 (0-7) or 1986 (0-5), Cote d'Ivoire finally notched their first World Cup victory in the final group stage game in 2010, beating Puerto Rico 88-79. That allowed them to finish as the best last-placed team from the groups in 21st place.
Back on the World Cup stage in 2019, the Elephants dropped their three First Round games - to China, Venezuela and Poland. Cote d'Ivoire lost both games in the 17th-32nd Classification to Nigeria and Korea to remain winless for the third World Cup - albeit finishing 29th overall.
Players to watch
Vafessa Fofana was the only Cote d'Ivoire player to appear in all 12 games but the team have five others who played in nine games - including Souleyman Diabate, Maxence Dadiet and Guy Edi. That represents a major core of the team that will appear in Asia this summer.
But Diabate and co. will have a number of other weapons. Matt Costello or Alex Poythress could take over the role of a dominant big man in the paint for the team.
The Elephants also have Stephen Konate, the dynamic 20-year-old guard Assemian Moulare, Nisre Zouzoua, Bazoumana Kone, Jean Kebe, Sire Dieng, Cedric Bah, Ismael Sanogo and Charles Abouo.
Qualified Team Focus series
Please check the teams we have already broken down. In the past weeks, before the last qualifications that happened in February 2023, we have ordered them by their position in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike:
Spain, Australia, France, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece, Italy, Germany, Canada, Finland, New Zealand, USA, Serbia, Brazil, Venezuela, Montenegro, Puerto Rico, Iran, Dominican Republic, China, Latvia, Mexico, Georgia, Jordan, Japan, the Philippines and Angola.