Sun, Sep 10, 2017 - Page 10 News List

African basketball set to entertain in its own way


Supporters drum during the AfroBasket match between Senegal and South Africa at the Marius Ndiaye Stadium in Dakar on Friday.

Photo: AP

The African basketball championship might lack star power — even electrical power on occasion — but with national pride at stake, it almost always entertains.

AfroBasket, which tipped off on Friday in Senegal and Tunisia, cannot be compared to a glitzy event like the NCAA tournament.

Senegal’s aging national stadium in the capital, Dakar, for example, has no air conditioning.

A recent women’s AfroBasket game in Mali was paused because of a power cut.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) turned to Senegal and Tunisia as emergency cohosts of this men’s championship just two months ago because the Republic of the Congo backed out, as did replacement host Angola.

The 16-team tournament was pushed back to this month, too close to training camps for many Africans who play in the NBA.

Tunisia hosted in August 2015, two months after 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack at a beach resort.

As a precaution, games were moved to Rades, outside the capital, Tunis.

The tournament still carries on, as it has done since 1962.

“They always end up finding a way and it always ends up being a great tournament, so we must find a way to improve it, to get more out of it,” said Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian who is president of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. “I’ve played in that tournament. I’ve coached in it. It’s an unbelievable feeling. There’s a remarkable atmosphere. I wish more people knew about it.”

Arenas are abuzz with drumming, dancing and flag waving. Boisterous Senegalese supporters packed Marius Ndiaye Stadium on Friday hours before their team took the floor, which was painted just three days earlier.

Even referees seem to feel it.

In a March qualifier, a Malian player sank a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer against Senegal, pulled off his jersey and sprinted toward fans as if he had scored a goal at the soccer World Cup.

No technical foul.

Wearing national colors is serious business for players, some of whom have grandparents who lived under colonial oppression.

“I take pride in it,” said Senegal’s Maurice Ndour, who played for the New York Knicks last season. “It will be my first time playing in Senegal in front of the home crowd. It’s huge.”

Senegal, with Minnesota Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng on board, will be under pressure to win the title, something they have not done since 1997.

Angola are 11-time African champions and have not missed the final since 1997.

Nigeria captured their first title at the previous AfroBasket in 2015.

Tunisia won in 2011, but will play without Dallas Mavericks center Salah Mejri, who said that the Mavericks preferred that he rest a sore knee.

Tunisia are to host the knockout phase after this weekend’s flurry of games in Dakar and Rades.

AfroBasket also provides a qualification path to FIBA’s world championship in 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Top players sometimes opt out because of scheduling conflicts and, especially, their national federations’ unwillingness to pay for insurance.

Other NBA players not going are Cameroonians Joel Embiid, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Pascal Siakam, as well as the Congo’s Bismack Biyombo and Emmanuel Mudiay.

NBA and other scouts are expected, so players like 25-year-old Ndour, now a free agent, can help themselves as they help their teams. Carlos Morais of Angola was invited to the Raptors’ training camp after earning MVP honors at the 2013 African championship.

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