KIGALI (Rwanda) – The 30th edition of the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 is gradually drawing to a close with four countries left out of the sixteen nations that began the race for the podium finish of Africa’s premier basketball Championship.
The four countries (Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Tunisia and Cape Verde) did not just make it thus far without some great contributions from some of their star-players who gave it all to help their teams reach this stage of the competition as the Semi-Finals beckons on Saturday.
Cape Verde, Tunisia, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal did not mince words from the jump-ball on August 24th at the Kigali Arena, Rwanda as all four led in their various groups right from the Group Phase stage with three staying unbeaten (Tunisia, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal), while Cape Verde dropped a game at the group stage of the Championship.
All four teams booked their places in the Semi-Finals in grand styles with Senegal’s prowess from the preliminary being put to test by Africa most decorated side Angola, though Senegal prevailed 79-74 but not without breaking a sweat.
Cote D’Ivoire, on the other hand, had an easy ride over hapless Guinea cruising to a 48-point margin win with an emphatic 98-50 points victory.
Tunisia had to fall back on experience to get the better of enterprising South Sudan who received standing ovation from the crowd even in the defeat at the buzzer. The reigning African champions Tunisia won 80-65 and Cape Verde had to dig deep to get past energetic Uganda by 79-71 points.
The first Semi-Final pairing between 2007 third finisher Cape Verde against title holder Tunisia promises to be a must-watch game as both sides had what it takes to go the whole length with some players who have distinguished themselves as reliable and are capable of taking their countries further in the match-up.
Few players have been outstanding on the roster of both sides: Cape Verde center Walter Tavares has been everything for his country as he leads the race in defense with solid statistics.
The Real Madrid of Spain center has delivered in all four games he has filled out for Cape Verde.
The 29-year-old 2.21m (7ft3in) has been phenomenal at both ends of the court with impeccable statistics to show for it. Tavares averaged 16.5 points, a resolute 14.3 rebounds – the highest so far – and 2.3 assists per game.
Another player who always come to the party for Cape Verde is Fidel Mendonca, not to be ignored by any opponent.
The 37-year-old shooting guard is revered for his shooting prowess from behind the arc and showed great leadership quality on and off the court as he dreams to captain Cape Verde beyond what his country achieved in 2007 in Angola (Third-Place).
Mendonca posted an average of 9.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and one assist per game to contribute his side excellent run thus far.
The Almeida brothers (Joel and Ivan) have been superb for Cape Verde with their contribution to their progress at the AfroBasket leaving fans with jaw-breaking performances as they hope to help the Islanders rattle Tunisia come Saturday.
Joel (35) can play multiple roles from back-court to front-court, little wonder he finished with 15.3 points, five rebounds and three assists in four games.
32-year-old Ivan, on the other hand, is more compact and business-like on the court and finished with 10.3 points, five rebounds and 3.8 assists.
For Tunisia, nothing can be better than what fate threw at them as they go into the Semi-Final against Cape Verde but not be too over confident as they gun for a third AfroBasket title in Rwanda.
The transition between 2009 when they lost to Cape Verde and now has seen a lot of improvement on their part as they are now referred to as one of the Africa’s giants in basketball.
The title holder have carried on like soldiers who know when to pull the arsenal against any opposition as they did to dispatch stubborn South Sudan in the Quarter-Finals.
Tunisia captain and forward Makram Ben Romdhane is a player who hates defeat or sloppy performance. His ability to inspire his teammates is second to none in the run off to the semi-final.
The 2.04m (6ft 8in) who recently joined Benfica of Portugal has been highly instrumental for his side with a respectable record of 13.3 points, seven rebounds and 2.8 assists. A lot will be expected from the 32-year-old.
Salah Mejri (35) is ready to match-up to Tavares on the board on Saturday. The 2011 MVP has really come of age compare to when he first suited for his country at the 2009 edition of the Championship in Libya.
The 2.17m (7ft 1in) center is also known for his occasional three-point range as he has done on several occasions.
Mejri, who last played club competition in the colour of Etoile Sportive du Rades in the Tunisian top league, will be counted on to help wade off the offense of their Semi-Finals opponent. Mejri averaged 14.8 points, six rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
Tunisia roster is not complete without the the name of pacy guard Michael Roll who took Tunisian nationality to fulfil an ambition of becoming a champion. The 34-year-old is known for his shooting ability which he has displayed on a number of times.
The Milano of Italy 195cm guard has continued to justify his inclusion in coach Dirk Bauermann’s team as he averaged 15.8 points and 4.3 assists.
The second Semi-Finals pairing between two-time winner of the AfroBasket Cote D’Ivoire and old foe and five-time winner Senegal.
Stephane Konate and Matt Costello
Cote D’Ivoire will look up to the trio of ageless Stephane Konate (41 years), Matt Costello (28) and Souleyman Diabate (34) with support from 20-year-old budding talent Lionel Kouadio to wreck havoc against Senegal if they must match on to Sunday grand finale.
Senegal, on the other hand, will bank on enterprising point guard Brancou Badio who has been outstanding so far for his country, ever reliable centre Gorgui Dieng and Ibrahim Faye to put paid to the ambition of Cote D’Ivoire.
41-year-old Konate who did not look his age on the court has garnered an average of 11.5 points per game with two rebounds and two assists in four games.
Diabate (34), who helped Zamalek clinch the first-ever Basketball Africa League in May in Kigali, has contributed 7.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 6.3 assist for his side matching on.
Herbalife Gran Canaria of Spain 208cm centre is one player who has shown more hunger on the roster of Cote D’Ivoire, the 28-year-old has posted an impeccable record of 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.5 assist while youthful Kouadio had 5.5 points and three rebounds to his name.
Badio is no doubt a play-caller, not minding his young age (22) among the star-studded Senegalese side.
The FC Barcelona guard is one player any team cannot afford to ignore with excellent ball handing and eye for the hoops.
The 1.90m (6ft2in) guard has notched up 17.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6 assist in Senegal quest for a sixth title; Dieng who recently signed for the Atlanta Hawks, has provided enough cover for the Lions. His record speaks volume with 16.5 points, ten rebounds and 1.5 assist as the 31 years aims to fulfilling his life long dream of being decorated Africa champion after falling short on two occasions (2015 and 2017).
And if Cote D’Ivoire think it’s all about Badio and Dieng for the Lions then they must be conscious of the presence of Ibrahim Faye, a reliable piece for coach Ndong.
Faye record speak for itself with 12.8 points per game, six rebounds and 1.8 assists, then the stage is set for the fire work between Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal on Saturday.