15 November 2012

NCAA : College basketball is back, and Senegal should watch out

SHEFFIELD (Júlio Chitunda’s African Message) - Following last Friday's season opener in men's college basketball, one thing is certain: there are reasons to cheer up, particularly for Senegal.
But if the country’s basketball federation is seriously considering returning to podium places at the African flagship tournament Afrobasket, they definitely cannot disregard what is going on in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as there are dozens of Senegalese players on display.
In past years, Senegal's men’s team has been full of talented big men and - at times - some good coaching staff, but they last stood on a podium at the 2005 Afrobasket when they finished runners-up.
Some say that they need much more than being big and talented and that one of their weaknesses is a lack of a skilful playmaker.
Not to discredit guards such as Babacar Cisse - who last played for Senegal at the 2009 Afrobasket - or more recently Xane Dalmeida, who I believe both did their best to help the team in recent international tournaments, but it seems that Senegal urgently need to boost their guard position options.
However, as the US college basketball season opened, two players might have lifted Senegal’s aspirations.
At least to me, both Adama Louis Adams of South Carolina State University and Thierno Niang of the University of Milwaukee may become the answer that Senegal has hoped for.
Both guards are 22 years old and stand at just 1.85m (6'1"). And they are a rarity among the seven-footer Senegalese that US colleges often get so attracted to.
Adama and Niang had impressive NCAA Division I introductions last week.
On Friday, Adama had 14 points and six assists in an 81-62 victory over Clafin, as he showed his talent in 32 minutes on the floor.
Niang, meanwhile, opened the season with 11 points and 2 assists in a 76-46 win over Mary University.
Both Adama and Niang played at the 2008 FIBA U18 FIBA Africa Championship before making their way across the Atlantic.
These two players are so similar that they almost scored the same number of points at that tournament, although Adama became Senegal’s leading scorer with one point more than Niang, averaging 11.1 points per game, while his team-mate averaged 11 points.
Niang is described in his college team circles as a strong, athletic guard who takes great pride in his defense and in being unselfish as he usually gets all of his team-mates involved.
Surely both players are known to Senegalese. When the chance to play at the 2011 Afrobasket came, Adama was cut from the preliminary squad while Niang made it to final 12 coached by Frenchman Alain Weisz.
Whatever this season may hold, these two young men seem to fit perfectly well in Senegal’s future plan.
A couple of years ago, I asked Senegal international Boniface Ndong about the team’s performance at the 2009 Afrobasket and he did not hide his disappointment as they had finished seventh.
“Without a point guard, who makes us play, our big guys can do very little,” he told me, before pointing out that they don’t have a point guard playing at a high level and that this makes things very difficult for them.
“I am in position to say that we, as country, are desperate to find a high-profile point guard. We must find a solution urgently. Where this point guard will come from, I don’t know. An American naturalised point-guard could be an option,” Ndong said at the time.
No. To me, Senegal will not need to look any further if players such as Niang and Adama are highly stimulated to keep playing for Senegal.
Meanwhile the college basketball season saw some other African-born student-athletes excel on the opening weekend.
For instance, Cameroon’s big man Kenny Kadji of the University of Miami (Florida) registered 12 points and had a game-high 12 rebounds in an 87-79 win over Stetson University.
Egypt's 2.18m (7'2") Omar Oraby, who played at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship for Men, had 16 points and six rebounds in the University of South California Trojans' 87-73 win over Coppin State. Oraby's dominance in the paint saw him convert five of his six shots. He also made all six of his free-throws.
Elsewhere, guard Ayodeji Egbeyemi of Nigeria had a game-high 20 points and six assists in Loyola Marymount's 108-49 win over Pacifica University. Guy Edi, of 2013 Afrobasket hosts Ivory Coast, had 16 points and seven rebound to help Gonzaga beat Southern Utah 103-65.
Angolan international Valdelicio Joaquim contributed 11 points and eight boards to Hawaii's 76-64 win over Mid-East Shore.
Thus, with Senegal already qualified to next year’s Afrobasket, it is up to Adama and Niang to keep impressing, especially head coach monsieur Weisz.
Júlio Chitunda

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