16 July, 2014
03 October, 2015
5. Aya TRAORE (Senegal)
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Aya Traore chasing an Olympic dream

DAKAR (AfroBasket Women 2015) - Senegal ace Aya Traore has built on a stellar international career with her national team, but she is yet to feature at the Olympic Games.

The 1.84m guard won an African Championship in 2009 and picked up two continental silver medals (2007 and 2011), but that does not seem to be enough for the ambitious player who has also appeared in two editions of the FIBA Women's World Championship (2006 and 2010).

When Senegal attempted to book a ticket for the Beijing Games at the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament Women in Spain, Latvia and Japan were just too strong for the West Africans.

This summer, however, Traore and a group of Senegalese players - who are currently holding an extended training camp under re-appointed head coach Moustapha Gaye - will attempt to secure direct qualification for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

It will be Senegal's fourth consecutive attempt at reaching the Olympics. They last competed in the Olympic Basketball Tournament at the 2000 Sydney Games.

And they will need to win this year's AfroBasket Women in Yaounde, Cameroon, from 24 September to 3 October to book an automatic place in Rio.

The competition in the leading Africa's women's basketball event will be high and Traore knows it.

After all, it's been five years since they last stood on the top step of the podium, in a tournament that saw Traore claim the MVP award.

"If we win the tournament in Cameroon, it will be a dream come true for us," Traore said to FIBA.com.

Coach Gaye and his players are so determined to do succeed in Yaounde that they are making sure to keep the team as busy as possible until September.

"It was a very good sign to get ready for the AfroBasket [Women]," Traore said.

"I think it is a good idea an early preparation because some our opponents - Mozambique and Angola - are still competing, while most of us have already finished the season.

"Two years ago in Mozambique things did not work out the way we wanted. So, we are going to work together to win."

And last month Senegal travelled to Bucharest to face hosts Romania and Italy in a three-team warm-up tournament.

Both European sides are getting ready for the upcoming EuroBasket Women 2015 in Hungary and Romania (11-28 June), and Senegal returned home with a 1-2 record, after beating Italy 64-59, but conceding two defeats to Romania, 68-54 and 73-68.

Traore looked back at the tournament and pinpointed what needs to be done.

"We had just a few days preparation, while Italy seemed to be preparing for the EuroBasket [Women] a little longer. So, winning a game was encouraging," she recalled.

"We are not in the best form yet, but we are on the right path. We just need to continue to work on the team's chemistry.

"Hopefully a few more players will join us at later stage."

In Yaounde, Senegal are in Group B and will face defending champions Angola, Algeria, the winner of the Africa Zone 3 qualifier between Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria taking place on Wednesday and Thursday, a representative from Zone 2 and a team to be attributed a wild card invitation.

That is just the beginning of Senegal's Olympic dream.

I can’t single out one team because every game is a challenge at AfroBasket [Women]. - Traore

"They are really good teams," Traore recalled. "It [AfroBasket Women] is going to be a challenge, and we are going to need to stay focused in order to do better and be successful.

"They are coming to win.

Indeed, Traore knows what she is talking about.

Two years ago in Mozambique, Senegal were denied a place at the 2014 FIBA Women's World Championship following a 46-43 Semi-Final loss against Angola.

Eventually they claimed the bronze medal, but that triumph did not come cheap as Traore and Co needed to be at their best to overcome a very good Cameroon team in the Third-Place Game.

"It's still hard to think about it [AfroBasket Women 2013]," Traore admitted.

"It was a big disappointment for us as we worked hard to qualify for the World Championship.

"One of the lessons we learned is that we can never underestimate a team like Angola, which is well coached and have good players.

"Hopefully it does not happen again. Step by step we are going to accomplish what we want. This is a learning process, and we are going to face one game at a time in Cameroon."

Senegal preliminary squad for AfroBasket Women 2015: Ramata Dao, Fatoumata Diango, Maïmouna Diarra, Sabelle Diatta, Diary Diouf, Mame Diodio Diouf, Aminata Fall, Fatou Kine Kane, Elma Malou, Magaly Mendy, Couna NDao, Ndeye Sene, Mame Marie Sy, Oumoul Khairy Thiam, Astou Traore, Aya Traore.