Rwanda vs. Burkina Faso 12.30p.m
Tunisia vs. Morocco 8p.m
Cameroon vs. DR Congo 3p.m
Nigeria vs. Mali 5:30p.m
THE national men’s senior team starts its quest for glory at the 27th edition of the African Basketball Championships against debutants Burkina Faso today at Palaise de Sport Treichvile Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
The tournament serves to pick one of the three slots to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Madrid, Spain.
The Rwandan team which landed in Abidjan over the weekend trained on Monday and Tuesday night ahead of the tricky opening day tie.
Head coach Moise Mutokambali, who will be guiding Rwanda to a fourth consecutive appearance since their debut in 2007, is eager to help the team finish inside the top ten.
He said yesterday, “Our target is to finish in the top ten. We finished 12th in 2011, but this time round, we want to do much better.”
“Winning the first game will help boost confidence in the squad as we target to finish second in the group. Players are in good mood and we are well prepared for tomorrow’s (today) match,” added Mutokambali.
After Burkina Faso, Rwanda take on Morocco on Friday before facing title holders Tunisia on Saturday.
Skipper Aristide Mugabe is confident they are ready for the tournament.
“We have already gotten in the mood of the competition. Everyone is ready and we want to ensure that we start with a win against Burkina Faso,” added Mugabe.
The 16-team tournament, divided in four groups, got underway on Tuesday in Cote d’Ivoire capital city of Abidjan.
The number of African players plying their trade in Europe and the US has increased significantly over the past few years and many look keen to take their teams as far as possible at the AfroBasket 2013, a qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Some players feature in some of the most prestigious basketball leagues in the world including the NBA, Spain’s ACB, France’s Ligue National de Basket, the Greek League, China’s CBA, while several others come with US college experience.
Since the FIBA Basketball World Cup increased the numbers of participating teams from 16 to 24 in 2006, Africa gained an extra slot with the top three African teams securing direct qualification to the event.
Intriguingly, the number of potential world cup contenders has doubled with Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire among hot favourites.
In Group A, hosts Cote d’Ivoire will take on Egypt, Senegal and Algeria. Angola is in Group C alongside Mozambique, Central African Republic and Cape Verde, while in Group D, Nigeria will square off against Cameroon, Mali and Republic of Congo.
Two years ago, Tunisia stunned Angola in the final of the Afrobasket in Madagascar to claim their first continental title ever.
And this year, head coach Adel Tlatli made public his team’s intention to successfully defend its crown.
Indeed with the likes of Makram Ben Romdhane and Real Madrid’s new recruit Salah Mejri in their ranks, Tunisia will be taken as serious contenders yet again.
Although Nigeria will be competing with a largely different team from the one that came in third two years ago, they kept half of the team that stunned Greece at the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament and went on to play at the London Games.
Needless to say the Angolans won lots of admirers over the course of the past two decades, and they are the continent’s most successful team having won 10 African championships.
Four of their players – Joaquim Gomes, Armando Costa, Eduardo Mingas and Carlos Morais— have each won three AfroBasket titles.
Yet pundits can hardly ignore hosts Cote d’Ivoire, particularly since home advantage has always been a key factor in Afro-basketball.
But Cameroon are no pushovers either.
The return of new Sacramento Kings recruit Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, added to the presence of both Gaston Essengue and Christian Bayang and the AfroBasket experience of head coach Lazare Adingono, make Cameroon a genuine title contender.
Still, Senegal, Egypt, Republic of Congo and Cape Verde have all what it takes to ruin away with it.
In recent years, Senegal became famous for having quality big men. But this might be the year when they make the most of quality point guards, including Louis Adams who plays in the American collegiate ranks at South Carolina State University.
Egypt’s head coach Amr Aboul-Kheir said last week that their AfroBasket preparations have been affected by the ongoing political turmoil in the North African nation. But they can count on a talented team that dominated the African youth scene over the past six years.
The Republic of Congo might be the surprise team as they bring an exciting Europe-based crop of players led by Giovan Oniangue and Nobel Bongou-Colo.
Cape Verde will not have Ivan Almeida who pulled out the team, but experienced players like Rodrigo Mascarenhas and Mario Correia are poised to give them some pedigree and make an impact in Group C.