PARIS (Olympics) – Mali’s women may have some new faces in their team when the African champions travel to the Beijing Games.
The country qualified for the Olympics after 63-56 victory over hosts Senegal last September at the FIBA Africa Championship for Women.
Tasting success in his first experience in Africa, Mali coach Jose Ruiz is hungry for more and he’s planning on bolstering the squad with some talented youngsters.
"At least eight players who were in Senegal will remain in the team,” the Spain-born French national said to FIBA.
“Our final preparation will start in June, somewhere in Europe, but before it I will be working with young players that I expect to take to the Olympics.”
“They will have the chance to learn and improve with that international event.
“I think that winning the Africa Championship was a major psychological boost for our future.”
Mali’s achievement shocked the basketball establishment because they beat the mega-favorites “Lions” on their own soil. Not surprised was the 53-year-old Ruiz.
Mali lost Senegal in the opening game of the tournament but the final was a different story.
“It was not easy to defeat Senegal at home,” Ruiz said. “We lost first game, but we were clever enough to beat them in the final game. We studied Senegal’s weak points, and we made it.
“Senegal played a very good defensive game throughout the tournament, but our counter-attack option helped us a lot.
“Our team was well-prepared. My players showed a great determination to win. Their ambition was very clear in their eyes.”
Mali are the only African side to have secured a spot for Beijing.
Senegal and Africa’s bronze medalists Angola will also play the Pre-Olympic Tournament in Spain in June.
Ruiz believes that Africa’s teams have enough resources to face the big teams.
“Well, seven or eight Africans I saw in the Africa Championship are good enough to play at a high-level.
“Together, they could play neck-neck to a giant like Russia for example.”
Gambrinus Brno’s Hamchetou Maiga is Mali’s key-player, but Ruiz believes that his side is well served with talents spread all over Europe and the United States.
“Yes, Hamchetou is a great player who helps us very much due to her experience in the WNBA and Europe. We also have Diwara Nare [drafted in 2007 in 30th by San Antonio Silvers]. Alongside them are quiet good players here in France.”
Jose Ruiz never hesitated when asked if he would like to coach Mali.
Born in Spain, he has lived in France for more than 30 years. Malian officials approached him last year to offer him the job and he quickly accepted.
“I already knew a few African players here,” he said. “Knowing their quality and determination to work, I accepted it.
“Now, I will be at the Olympics, which is an opportunity that any sportsman/woman would like to live.
“We are conscious that any world giant may cross our road. We will be humble enough to play our game”
“We expect to play as well in Beijing as we played in Senegal last year. If that happens, it will be another incentive for Malian basketball.”