Egypt's basketball star Ahmed Khalaf has admitted his side is under pressure heading into the 2016 FIBA Africa U-18 Championships that gets underway in Kigali today.
The defending champions, who arrived in Kigali on Wednesday, will need to be at their best if they are to claim their fourth title in five consecutive editions, Khalaf says. The championship runs through July 31.
“We are under so much pressure partly because we (Egypt) will host the 2017 FIBA U-19 World Championships,” he said on the team’s arrival in Kigali.
Khalaf will be taking part in his first FIBA Africa U-18 event having previously participated in three other youth world championships: the 2014 FIBA U-17 World Championship, 2015 FIBA U-19 World Championship, and the 2016 FIBA U-17 World Championship.
“Our recent participation in the world championships in Spain (FIBA U-17) was good experience for us because it was very competitive,” said Khalaf, one of the five Egyptians from the roster in Spain to make the team that’s now in Kigali for the tournament.
“In Spain, we played against good sides so we are ready for anyone in this championship,” he added.
Asked about which team he sees as Egypt’s biggest threat in Kigali, Khalaf said, “Mali and Angola are very good teams and I am sure we will be at war for the title with them.”
But, Khalaf, who was part of the Egyptian team that won the 2015 FIBA Africa U-16 Championship, believes that beating Africa’s best is what eventually makes one a champion. “You have got to trust yourself and teammates.”
Egypt were among the first teams to jet in the country, along with Tunisia, Algeria, Gabon, Angola, Mali and Zimbabwe.
Rwanda Basketball Federation (Ferwaba) president Desire Mugwiza said that, most of the other national teams (BurkiNA Faso, DR Congo, Ivory Coast and Uganda), were expected on Thursday.
A total of 12 teams will participate in the tournament with games taking place at Amahoro indoor stadium (Petit Stade) in Remera, while training sessions will take place at Green Hills Academy in Nyarutarama.
The draw for the championships was due to be conducted last evening.