Meet the FIBA World Cup Teams: Don’t underestimate Africa

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

Five teams qualified for the World Cup from FIBA Africa, and Filipino fans are hoping one of these teams will be grouped with the Philippines.

This stems from the belief that Gilas Pilipinas can match up well with any of these teams and can pull of a win. After all, the lone victory of Gilas in the 2014 World Cup came at the expense of Senegal. However, a closer look at the African teams will reveal that it would be foolish to underestimate any of them.

READ: The Gilas Pilipinas World Cup Dream Team

Nigeria (World Ranking: 33)

Nigeria started the qualifiers with a 9-0 record before dropping two of its last three games in the February window to finish with a 10-2 record, still enough to finish first in Group F.

Thirty-five year-old and seven-year NBA veteran Ike Diogu averaged 15.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in 12 games. The 2015 African champions also paraded a trio of impressive youngsters.  Six-feet-two Ikenna Iroegbu, 23, showed he will be Nigeria’s top playmaker in the years to come with 14.5 points, 3.2 assists, and 4.5 boards. While 24-year-old forward Toshin Mehinti, who played US NCAA Division 1 ball, averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds. The qualifiers provided a glimpse of the future star of the team known as D’Tigers. This is 20-year-old 6’8 forward Jordan Nwora, son of Nigerian national team head coach Alexander Nwora. The younger Nwora, who was born and raised in the United States and who plays for the Louisville Cardinals in the US NCAA, topscored for Nigeria in the three games he played with 21.7 points aside from grabbing 8 boards a game.

And of course, there’s the 6’9 forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who averages 9.4 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Portland Trail Blazers this season, saw action thrice in the qualifier. He is expected to be at the forefront of Nigeria’s campaign in the World Cup.

Senegal (World Ranking: 37)

The West African Lions tied Nigeria with a 10-2 record but placed 2nd in Group F by virtue of an inferior quotient. The team’s backbone, 6’11 center Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves saw action in six games and was a dominant force down low with 18.3 points and 8.5 rebounds.

The team’s 6’9 power forward Mouhammad Faye, who torched Gilas with 20 points in 2014, was a steady presence with 8.3 points a game. Another 6’11 behemoth, Youssoupha Ndoye who plays professional ball in France, normed 12.3 points and 6.4 boards.

Two other players with NBA experience suited up for Senegal in the qualifiers. These are 6’9 Maurice Ndour who now plays in Russia and 7’0 Hamady N’Diaye who plays for Scandoni Avelino in the Italian league.

Senegal will be looking for some payback if they do cross paths with Gilas Pilipinas in China. With their length and athleticism, Senegal will be a tough match-up for any opponent in the World Cup.

Tunisia (World Ranking: 51)

Nicknamed Les Aigles de Carthage (The Eagels of Carthage), Tunisia practically clinched their World Cup berth in the September window with an 8-0 record. It went on to win its next two games before dropping its last 2 to top Group E with a 10-2 slate.

Tunisia won the 2011 FIBA African Championships when it defeated perennial African champion Angola. Tunisia’s World Cup chances will primarily rest on the broad shoulders of one man who has carried the team in the last decade, 7’2 center Salah Mejri of the Dallas Mavericks. Mejri played three games in the qualifiers and posted solid numbers with 8.7 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks.

Three players played in all 12 games for Tunisia in the qualifiers. These were starting point guard Omar Abada who registered 12.3 points and 3.8 assists, sharpshooting guard Mourad El Mabrouk who connected on at least two triples per game, and 6’8 forward Makram Ben Romdhane who contributed 11.8 points and 6.4 boards. Naturalized shooting forward Michael Roll, who was the leading scorer of the UCLA Bruins in the US NCAA in 2009-10, saw action for Tunisia in three games and helped with his averages of 10.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Angola (World Ranking: 23)

If there is one African team that Gilas Pilipinas can match-up with height-wise, it is Angola. But this does not necessarily mean Angola will be an easy prey. Although it finished only 2nd to Tunisia in Group E in the qualifiers, Angola is still generally regarded as the best team in Africa. In the last 15 stagings of FIBA Africa from 1989 to 2017, Angola has emerged champions 11 times.

In the qualifiers, Angola had nine wins and three losses. Their 6’9 center Yanick Moreira, who played for the SMU Mustangs in the US NCAA, paced the Angolans with his averages of 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. Moreira formed a solid frontline partnership with wide-bodied 6’8 naturalized player Reggie Moore. Veteran Carlos Morais, considered one of the best shooting guards in Africa in the last decade, was the only other Angolan who scored in double digits with 12.6 points in nine games.

For a team which has dominated in the region for three decades, it is surprising that no Angolan has yet made the NBA. The closest to play in the NBA were Moreira who was with the Toronto Raptors pre-season team in 2016 and Morais who was also with the Raptors in the 2013 preseason.

Cote D’Ivoire or Ivory Coast (World Ranking: 64)

Cote D’Ivoire was the surprise qualifier from the African region. In the last two editions of FIBA Africa in 2015 and 2017, the team did not even finish in the top 10 in the standings. Yet for the qualifier, they finished with a 7-5 record, 3rd in Group F behind Nigeria and Senegal, to beat out on quotient Cameroon which was led by former DLSU Green Archer Ben Mbala.

Veteran guard Souleyman Diabate, who plays in the French league, saw action all 12 games and normed 9.2 points and 4.2 assists. The team utilized players who are mostly based in their local league. Some of the best players of Cote D’Ivoire are based in Europe and did not play in the qualifiers. 6’9center Seydou Aboubacar of Palencia in the Spanish league and French league veterans Andaman Koffi (6’3, guard), former Gonzaga Bulldog Guy Edi (6’8, forward), Namori Meite (6’5 forward), and Eric Tape (6’6, forward) all sat out the FIBA qualifiers but will most likely be invited to join the team for the World Cup. It is not unlikely that Ateneo Blue Eagles 6’10 center Angelo Kouame would also get a call-up, unless SBP is bent on making true the rumors that Kouame is being considered for Filipino naturalization.

(Images from FIBA)


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