03 October 2012

SENEGAL : The rebirth of Senegal's youth

Senegalese Yacine Diop was neither the leading scorer of the U18 Afrobasket Women nor even did she lead any key category of the game, but her contribution in the gold medal 55-50 win over Mali at Dakar’s Marius Ndiaye Arena, proved decisive and crowned her the African 2012 U18 MVP, a significant moment for Senegal youth basketball.
She had 12 rebounds, seven points and seven assists to help Senegal secure a comeback to the podium after more than two decades. She was simply one of the most solid Senegal players throughout the showdown.
Just the like their male counterparts did last August when they dominated the U18 Afrobasket tournament in Maputo, Senegalese basketball’s new queens confirmed 2012 as the year of their rebirth as remaining unbeaten in seven games.
Senegal’s girls claimed their first gold medal in twenty-seven years, and they not only prevented Mali from winning their fifth title, but they also forced them to finish runners-up for the first time. Mali had won all four U18 Afrobasket finals they had played in.
This remarkable win brings hope to the women’s team that lost the 2011 Afrobasket to Angola.
The new champions secured the top prize and qualified to the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championship, which will be played in Lithuania.
Not long ago when I spoke to Senegal international Astou Traore, she, like some in the country, showed high hopes from this group of talented girls. At the time she referred to them as a bolster to Senegal’s aspirations ahead of the Mozambique 2013 Afrobasket.
Although Senegal won the U18 tournament, Mali trio of Aminata Traore, Fanta Guindo and Mariam Koné left impressive performances. They began the tournament with two losses, first to the 2010 champions Egypt followed by a 52-54 defeat to the host nation. Then they beat Angola, Kenya and Tunisia, before knocking Egypt out in the Semi-Final.
Traore and Guindo played at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Ankara, and both are likely to become regulars in the women’s team.
Nevertheless, as her country sought to win their second African title, since 2004, Tunisian Hamrouni Houda dominated both ends of the game as she became the tournament leading scorer and rebounder. She averaged 17 points and 9.5 rebounds, more than any other player.
On the other hand, Egyptian Soraia Deghady had an eye-catching display, as her country finished third thanks to a 45-44 overtime win over Tunisia. Runners-up at last year’s U16, Egypt seem to be a giant in the making.
As for Senegal, and following frequent calls for improvement among youth basketball in the country, the new champions seem to be on the right path to revitalizing the women’s team that lost last year’s Afrobasket Final in Mali. They just need consistency in the team.
In fact, both the boys’ and girls’ recent achievements are good news for a country that is often regarded as talented but that too often fails to win trophies due to alleged mismanagement.
Twenty five years after winning their first gold medal, Senegal head coach Birahim Gaye could not hide his emotions as he described the experience as a “thrilling moment.”
“Because this is the fruit of a long process that comes to completion”, he said, before thanking his team.
The tournament MVP Diop, however, has committed her future to the national side.
“I am very happy and proud to play for my country and I would say this whenever the country selects me,” she said
This was a tremendous success for Senegal as they might have learned from past experiences. They hosted the tournament on two occasions before and disappointed their fans in the process after finishing runners-up in 1991 and 1998, after defeats to DR Congo and Angola, respectively.
Senegal’s first U18 Women Africa title came in 1985 in Accra, Ghana, with a win over Mozambique.
Besides Yacine Diop, Egypt’s Soraia Deghady, Malians Mariam Kone and Aminata Traore, and Tunisian Hamrouni Houda made the all-tournament team.
With only six teams taking part in this year’s U18 Afrobasket Women, after withdrawals by Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Mozambique, DR Congo and Guinea, the tournament registered one the smallest participations, which without a doubt reduced the competitiveness.
However, Mali join winners Senegal at the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championship in Lithuania.
Julio Chitunda

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