Gandega set for Mali comeback, eyes title at AfroBasket Women 2015
BAMAKO (AfroBasket Women 2015) - Mali international Diana Gandega is set to return for her country's senior women team after a three-year absence.
The 32-year-old, who last played for the national team at the 2012 FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT), could hardly hide her joy at the thought of wearing Mali's colours again at AfroBasket Women 2015.
"It is always a great pleasure to wear the jersey of Mali. It is a pride for my parents. Every time I tell them I'm joining the team, they are happier than me, especially my mother who is Senegalese," Gandega told fiba.com.
The 1.70m point guard first featured for Mali at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a competition she still remembers fondly.
"It was the first appearance of Mali's women's team in an international tournament. Apart from Hamchetou Maiga who was playing with Houston Comets in the WNBA at the time, there were no professional players in the team. We were really happy to be in this tournament and learn alongside the players that we used to see on TV," Gandega recalled.
Mali's Basketball Federation (FMBB) have begun gathering all their best players and re-appointed head coach Herve Coudray as they look to make a comeback at the international level.
At AfroBasket Women 2011 played in the country's capital of Bamako, the hosts finished third following a 56-51 loss in the Semi-Finals against eventual champions Angola.
It left a bitter taste in the mouth of the 2007 continental champions who will travel to Yaounde, Cameroon (24 September-3 October) for this year's edition of the tournament with the goal of winning it all.
Mali have been drawn in Group A along with hosts Cameroon, Mozambique, South Africa, Gabon and Uganda.
Gandega, who will be playing in her third AfroBasket, is aware that the battle for the title will be tough.
"Angola and Senegal are teams that we could face in the Quarter-Finals because we are not in the same group," she said.
But regardless of who stands in their way, Mali's target remains the same.
"The goal at AfroBasket Women 2015 is to get a spot for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. That is why the federation has hired Herve Coudray for the tournament and he has decided to call up experienced players," Gandega explained.
AfroBasket Women 2015 will serve as a qualifier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The winner of the tournament will secure automatic qualification, while the teams that finish second and third will book places to participate in 12-team FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT).