04 January 2012

Top African point guard to retire in 2012

Let me share with you what one of the most celebrated African point guards has decided to do in this year of the Olympic Games.

Miguel Lutonda will retire from both the Angolan national team and from his club Primeiro de Agosto in mid 2012, raising serious concern to the country's aspirations of returning to the top position of Africa.
This time his decision seems to be definite after more than a decade of orchestrating the 10-time African champions.
Lutonda had retired from the national team in 2007 at the age of 36, but returned in 2010.
Now, after turning 40 on Christmas eve, he tells me he is proud with his achievements, but it´s time to go.
Back in 2007, when I interviewed him for fiba.com, I asked him what he was going to do after his retirement from the national team, and what future to expect from Angola. He answered he was going to do things that his international commitment did not allow him to do. He said then it was the right time for younger players to step up; he was convinced that the national team´s future was bright and that he was going to focus on his club career.
Lutonda was right that he was going to enjoy more time with friends, family and travelling around his native Angola, but he was wrong that the country´s future was bright.
Indeed, younger players took over, and the likes of Felizardo Ambrosio, Leonel Paulo and Valdelicio Joaquim have been doing really well.
However, Angola's main problem lies with the point guard position, where Armando Costa and Domingos Bonifácio have struggled to make an impact.
Both players have turned the ball over more often than Lutonda did when he retired after AfroBasket 2007. At the time, Lutonda averaged one turnover per game. At AfroBasket 2011, Costa turned the ball over at a rate of 3.1 times per game and Bonifacio 1.2.
To put things in context, I should say Lutonda´s contribution are unquestionable. He was left out of AfroBasket 2011 after playing at three FIBA World Championships (2002, 2006 and 2010), two Olympic Games (2000 and 2004) and had lifted the AfroBasket title on five occasions since 1997 when he first played for the Angolan national team. He was named MVP of the AfroBasket on two occasionSome may point to the fact that Angola won AfroBasket 2009 and two Stankovic Cups (2008 and 2011) without Lutonda as an indication that the young players were ready to keep Angola on the right track after qualifying for the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Then Lutonda came back.
“The General” as he is known in Angolan basketball circles, did not think much when the national team coach at the time, Luis Magalhães, invited him to join the squad to play in Turkey replacing his injured successor Costa. Lutonda went on to average nine points per game, showing how well he felt playing for his country, at 39 years of age.
If his previous retirement from the national team - as a gold medal winner following Angola's 86-72 defeat of Cameroon in the Final of AfroBasket 2007 - was the way any player would want to close out his international career, Lutonda's last game for Angola in September 2010 proved less memorable, as his team went down 121-66 to the USA team at the Eighth-Final stage in Istanbul.
With or without Lutonda, the latest performances by Angola show they require much-needed improvement at the point guard position. This will be put to the test at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) to be staged in Venezuela in early July.
While Angolans struggle, a new powerhouse emerge from the Maghreb. Tunisia is the new dominant force in Africa, after winning AfroBasket 2011. At club level, Tunisian side Etoile Sportive du Sahel claimed gold at the African Club Championships in December following an 82-60 victory over Angola's most succesfull club, Primeiro de Agosto.
In early 2011, the Angolan Basketball Federation (FAB) thought it was time to refresh the national team and decided to sign French coach Michel Gomez in place of Luis Magalhães, a decision that FAB concluded was wrong when they sacked Gomez midway through the AfroBasket 2011.
To find out more about Lutonda's expectations and resolutions for 2012, I gave him a phone call and he shared his thoughts on Tunisia, as the new African giants. This is what he told me: “I believe that the national team should have worked harder than it did, credit to Tunisia.”
Olimpio Cipriano, perhaps the best Angolan player currently, missed out AfroBasket 2011, and Lutonda gave me his view: “No disrespect to others, but experienced players like Carlos Almeida and Olimpio Cipriano must be selected given the time and hard work they gave to the national team in the past.
“Regardless of a player's behaviour outside the court, a good player should be picked as long as he fulfills his duties within the team.”
On the new African Club champions, Etoile Du Sahel, Lutonda told me his Primeiro de Agosto “started overconfident” as they had beaten them “by as many as 20 points in the group stage. We lacked focus.”
Rumours in Angola link African player of the moment, Tunisian Makrem Ben Romdhane, to Primeiro de Agosto. If it depended on Lutonda´s view, the 22-year-old player should have been in Luanda a long ago.
“He is a good player, able to play in three different positions, and he is a team player. If signed, I think Primeiro de Agosto will benefit a lot from him.
Looking ahead to the OQT, this is what Lutonda had to say: “We have already won the Stankovic Cup, which means we are able to beat teams from Europe, Amerca, Ásia and Oceania. It is cleary possible to make it to London.”
As a great basketball fan and enthusiast, I was not surprised to see Angola´s dominance start cracking, if we consider the latest performances by Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia, teams that have shown how hard Angola will have to work to restore its continental status.

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