28 August 2012

AFROBASKET U18- Senegal join African youth champions

SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - Senegal U18 Men's National Team can firmly say that sometimes bad things happen for a good reason.
Not that they were happy with what happened in the past, but in just two years Senegal went from withdrawing from the 2010 Afrobasket U18 Men in Rwanda - for lack of financial resources - to becoming African champions last week in Maputo and being congratulated by the country's president.
On Saturday 25 August, Senegal's team, for the first time ever, put the country’s name among African U18 champions following a nerve-wracking 71-62 win over the Ivory Coast, at Academica de Maputo Arena in Mozambique.
Neither team had ever played a Final of the tournament, but both did brilliantly and clinched places to represent Africa at the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championship to be held in Czech Republic.
Both Ivory Coast and Senegal arrived in the Mozambique capital city of Maputo with modest track records in the competition, but they turned the odds around.
Throughout the Preliminary Round, both teams seemed just happy to qualify for the next stage of the tournament.
But as they progressed in the competition, they grew in confidence and caused big upsets by stunning traditional podium contenders Angola, Egypt and Mali.
When both teams finished second and third respectively behind defending-champions Egypt and ahead of three-times African champions Angola in Group B, it was surely an indication that this year's tournament was going to have an unusual outcome.
Egypt were probably the strongest contender, having won the competition two years earlier and also participated at last year's FIBA U19 World Championship for Men.
The Pharaohs were in a strong position to retain their crown, but things went horribly wrong after the Ivoirians came stronger in the Semi-Final wining 57-42 to avenge a 49-45 loss in the Preliminary Round.
Nevertheless, this tournament was frustrating for Egypt who finished unbeaten in the group stages with wins over Senegal (49-39), Ivory Coast (49-45), Angola (90-41), Morocco (65-47) and Gabon (78-51).
As a consolation, Egypt stepped to the podium with a bronze medal following a 78-54 over Mali.
Meanwhile, Senegal beat three-time bronze medallist Mali 63-47in their Semi-Final.
This year’s U18 Afrobasket Men was atypical and interesting in some aspects as neither Nigeria nor Angola (two consistent medal contenders) made it closer to the podium.
Nigeria missed out on the qualification to the Maputo 2012 tournament while Angola finished fifth.
Some expected Saturday’ Final to become a revenge for the Ivoirians after they lost 61-53 to Senegal in the Preliminary Round.
The new champions played with a wise principle in mind: don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today. They deservedly secured the top-prize with a 6-1 record. This was Senegal time.
Not bad for a team that lacked financial backing two years earlier.
Another notable fact was Nigeria's absence. They are simply Africa U18 Men's most successful team with six titles. But they missed out on qualification after finishing third in the zone III qualifying tournament, behind winner Ivory Coast and Ghana, who later received a wild card to take part in the tournament.
Individually, Egypt's Saleh Ehab did not disappoint as he was named Most Valuable Player of the Tournament while Senegalese big man Abdoulaye N’Doye got the title of the boards dominant.
Coulibaly Boubacar Papa (Mali), Moatez Ali (Egypt), Emmanuel Oulai (Ivory Coast), Saleh Ehab (Egypt) and Abdoulaye N’Doye (Senegal) made to the All-Tournament team.
Thus, my question is: will Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s U18 national team - who withdrew from this year tournament - follow Senegal's example and deliver such success should they be supported in the future?
For now one thing is certain, at least three DRC players - Morton Kadita, Rodrigue Ebondo and Christian Kazadi - will show their skills at the four-day Basketball Without Borders (BWB) clinic to be held in Johannesburg starting on Thursday 30 August.
As for Senegal, their talent and passion has attracted so much attention throughout the times that the United States' Department of State in partnership with the NBA and WNBA is organising a basketball clinic hosted by Charles Watson of the Brooklyn Nets and former WNBA player Chamique Holdsclaw in the cities of Dakar and Thies.
Senegal youths are at the centre of attention as they will be the largest contingent at the BWB with seven players.
For the new champion, Senegal's newly-elected president Macky Sall sent them an appreciation message: “On behalf of the Senegalese people and on my own behalf I wish to express my warmest congratulations on the victory that you just added to the already glowing track record of Senegalese basketball.”
Surely what this Senegal national team achieved in Maputo can only be translated as a clear message to sport authorities: “Support us and we will deliver success.”
Julio Chitunda

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