24 January 2012

SENEGAL : So many talents, very few titles

Let’s have a look at what makes Senegal international Mouhammad Faye a unique player.

Standing 2.08m tall, he is the kind of forward that head coaches really dream of having in ambitious teams.
The 26-year-old is hardworking, humble, exceptionally versatile for a player his size, is a good three-point shooter and, above all, is seriously committed to the game.
Faye is well placed to become one of the greatest players in his country's basketball history.
And he does not refuse a challenge, whether with his so-often criticised Senegal Basketball Federation, or at club level, for whom he shows no sign of stopping.
Unsurprisingly, last summer, Alain Weisz - the former France coach at EuroBasket 2001 and 2003 and coach of Senegal at the AfroBasket 2011 - did not hesitate in offering him a contract to play for his French Ligue Nationale de Basket (LNB) team, Hyeres-Toulon.
Faye said yes and is now living his first European professional experience in Mediterranean town of Toulon, where he wants more than to just be a leading scorer.
Hyeres-Toulon is struggling and Faye hopes for better days to come.
After a collegial career in the United States at the universities of Georgia Tech and Southern Methodist, followed by a stint in the NBA's D-League with Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Faye accepted Weisz’s offer and is now the second leading scorer of Hyeres-Toulon, averaging 14.6 points per game, just two points behind teammate Paccelis Morlende.
In his first year playing in Europe, the attention has also been on Faye’s future with Senegal. Will he turn his back to his national team?
No, he told me when I spoke to him a couple of days ago.
Actually he is pleased with his role in the national team: “It is great being the leader of my team as I have been able to help them out; I just want to carry on helping my country,” he said to fiba.com.

No trophies since 1997
As with Nigeria, Senegal is a country often regarded as having a large number of talented players, some of whom play in the main leagues around the world.
For various reasons, some tend to represent the country on only one or two occasions, disrupting the talented and blessed accolade.
There are exceptions, of course. In the last seven years, 36 players have represented Senegal in four AfroBasket editions and one FIBA World Championship. Faye has appeared in three tournaments since he first played for Senegal at AfroBasket 2007.
No players have been more regulars for Senegal than Maleye Ndoye and Malick Badiane, the leading rebounder at last year's AfroBasket with 11 rebounds per game.
Both players have represented the country in four AfroBasket (2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011) and the FIBA World Championship 2006.
In the last four AfroBasket editions, Senegal finished runner-up (2005), ninth (2007), seventh (2009) and fifth last year.
As host nation, Senegal won the continent's most desired basketball trophy on three occasions (1972, 1978 and 1997) and, twice as visitors to Morocco (1968 and 1980).
Historically, Egypt and Senegal are the second most titled African countries with five apiece, after 10-time winners Angola.
I asked Faye why Senegal is not winning titles.
“Because we have not been able to put all our best players together; some of our players just give up on the national team,” he replied.
Over the last five years, Faye has become highly influential for Senegal. He went from averaging 12 points per contest for the national team to becoming the top scorer at AfroBasket 2011 with 21.7 points per game.
Two years ago in Libya, he averaged 17 points per game, just two less than Senegal top-scorer Boniface Ndong, who played two games less.
With or without management issues, Faye just wants to see his country being successful.
“If we have in the squad players like Boniface [Ndong], things could have been different,” he said.
Senegal went to Madagascar with a well renewed team featuring eight players who had never played at an AfroBasket.
On Day 2 of the tournament, they did the unexpected by defeating reigning champions Angola 85-78.
Everything seemed to be on the right track for the Senegalese until they collapsed in the Quarter-Finals following a 75-59 defeat against the Ivory Coast that ended their chances of fighting for a place at the London Olympics.

What happened?
“I don’t know, maybe because of that win [against Angola] we were just so happy to get focus,” Faye said.
Learning the European game
At the time of writing this column, Toulon were bottom of LNB table with just two wins in 14 games.
Still, Faye thinks it is a question of time.
He described to me his European experience: “it is tough to play in Europe; I am still learning how to play here.
“You have got to be smart."
With Nigeria and Angola hoping to make it to London through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Venezuela, Faye recognises it will not be an easy task.
“It is a different level of game. Perhaps Angola can do something as they are used to play these kind of tournaments, but I think it will be tough for both teams,” he offered.
Expecting to lift the African title one day, Faye paid tribute to the new champions: “Tunisia played really well and deserved it.”
Julio Chitunda

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