Top 5 real contenders for AfroBasket 2015
SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - In just over two weeks, 16 African teams will square off at AfroBasket 2015 to be crowned Africa champions, but only a few have realistic chances of competing for the title.
Africa's flagship event will take place in Tunisia from 19-30 August.
And, based on the teams' training camps as well as conversations and interviews that I've had with a number of players, coaches and officials over the course of the past few weeks, five national teams have emerged as the frontrunners.
I call them the Top 5 real contenders.
As I write this column, my impressions are that Nigeria, Tunisia, Angola, Cameroon and Cape Verde are currently the strongest teams, and more than capable of competing for a spot in the Semi-Finals.
Senegal are currently holding a training camp in Dakar and I really would love to add them into this top 5 pool. But, right now, some ongoing internal disputes and contentions seem to be affecting the team, which best represented Africa at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Senegalese could be title contenders if their preparations improve in the next few days.
Here are reasons I picked these five teams.
Talent, athleticism and high-level of basketball experience make this Nigeria team somehow unique.
With the arrival of Al-Farouq Aminu after his appearance in the NBA Africa Game over the weekend, newly-appointed head coach Will Voigt has one of - if not - the most talented group of players of all 16 teams participating at AfroBasket 2015. However, over the next two weeks, Voigt will need to transform that talent reputation into a competitive team.
They should capitalise from their veteran experiences. Ike Diogu, Olumide Oyedeji, Alade and Al-Farouq Aminu have played together in three major international tournaments and the group looks hungrier than ever to give Nigeria their first-ever AfroBasket title.
Don't know what was better wearing that Blazer jersey or playing in Africa. Had an amazing time and… https://t.co/GYu0qbZTGc— Al-Farouq Aminu (@farouq1) August 1, 2015
Coach Adel Tlatli has a balanced group of players, and winning the African championship at home is a must-do condition, which makes Tunisia a legitimate title contender.
Most of their players have been together since 2009, and Tlatli - who led the team to the continental trophy in 2011 - should be Tunisia's most valuable asset.
The hosts of this year's championship may not admit it, but they seem to be under pressure. However, the experienced Tlatli has already shown his leadership abilities.
I can't wait to see what Michael Roll add to the team.
AfroBasket 2015 : L'américain Michael Roll en renfort pour le cinq national > http://t.co/WHmzG5dlfC #Tunisie #Basket pic.twitter.com/qx6mMMJe0k— webdo (@webdo_tn) July 23, 2015
They will be arriving in Tunisia without a number of influential players - Joaquim Gomes, Olimpio Cipriano, Milton Barros and Yanick Moreira - but their pedigree to compete on Africa's biggest stage is impressive.
Tactically very disciplined, Angola's main weapon is its ardent desire to be the best of the best in Africa. No matter what or how, the 11-time African champions have that winning mindset instilled in them. Two consecutive wins over Venezuela in their training camp in Spain last week seems to be a good sign for the Angolans.
Las selecciones de #baloncesto de Angola y Venezuela en #Torrejon @TorrejonDxte http://t.co/AKLsESGgfL pic.twitter.com/UQkt3xwCYF— Ayto. Torrejón Ardoz (@Ayto_Torrejon) July 15, 2015
Although Cameroon last appeared on the podium way back in 2007, coach Lazare Adingono has a superb opportunity this year to have his team finish among the top three at Tunisia 2015.
And the return of point guard Parfait Bitee, who sat out the tournament two years ago, as well as the addition of Kenny Kadji give Cameroon a lot grit and hope.
It's a blessing to have a chance to represent my country. #afrobasket2015… https://t.co/ZtCTY0pvjJ— kenneth kadji (@kadji35) July 31, 2015
5. Cape Verde
Walter 'Edy' Tavares just signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks and might not join the islanders at AfroBasket 2015, but this team shouldn't be ruled out from battling it out for the top places of the tournament.
Handing the helm of the team to celebrated Mozambican-Portuguese head coach Luis Magalhaes was a smart move from the country's Basketball Federation.
After all, Magalhaes knows better than most what Africa basketball is made of. A winner of AfroBasket 2009 with Angola, he has been responsible for the return of Ivan Almeida as well as Mario Correia, two of Cape Verde's key players.
Their position in the FIBA Ranking Men may not be the most attractive of all, but a quick look at the group of players currently taking part in the training camp, it becomes clear who the number one team is in Group D.
Afrobasket/Tunísia ‘2015: Ryan Gomes disponível para representar Cabo Verde - presidente FCB PRAIA – O presidente... http://t.co/8CV2ceHB9L— NORBERTO SILVA (@SILVAJN) July 27, 2015
Let the battle for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro begin!
FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.
FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.