ABIDJAN (Afrobasket Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) - When the 2013 Afrobasket Women tips off in Mozambique later this year, Ivory Coast will be playing in the tournament for the fourth consecutive time under the leadership of Kani Kouyate.
Ivory Coast secured qualification to this year’s tournament after two wins in the qualifying round (64-33 and 64-31) over Burkina Faso last July.
They have become regulars at the continental showdown since the 2007 edition held in Senegal, having missing out on qualification in 2003 and 2005.
“The Elephants” as they are commonly known, went on to play in the 2009 Madagascar tournament, before they last played in Mali, two years ago.
But the current Ivory Coast's women’s game cannot be referred to without mention of Kouyate, a 22-year-old small forward, who has become the team’s finest player in the past five years.
Since she first played for the country’s national side in 2007, at the age of just 17, Kouyate has taken on a leadership role.
In that tournament, she led her team in scoring. Two years later, at the 2009 Afrobasket, she led all players in that category with 15.6 points per game.
Four years after her national team’s debut in Mali, she led Ivory Coast averaging 14.1 points per game as they came in eighth in the continental championship two years ago.
Kouyate’s brilliance allowed her to compete at the 16-team 2007 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women held in Slovakia, after they finished runners-up at the FIBA Africa U18 played staged in Benin.
In Slovakia, though, Ivory Coast had a frustrating campaign as they were trounced by USA, Lithuania, China, Argentina and their African fellows Mali.
As for the upcoming Afrobasket, Kouyate, her sister Mariama, Christelle N’Garsanet, and the team’s leading rebounder Stephanie N’Garsanet join a group of teams battling to finish in the top two places of the tournament in order to qualify to the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, which is to be staged in Turkey.
Despite her individual prominence, Kouyate is yet to win a major African team trophy.
Last October her Club Sportif d’Abidjan (CSA) club - currently unbeaten in four games in national championship - hosted the African Clubs Cup Women, but they fell short in the quarter-finals to Angolan side Inter Clube de Luanda.
CSA finished fifth in the ten-team event.
However, Kouyate led the tournament in scoring with 19.4 points per game.
At the time she could not hide her disappointment.
“We aimed to finish in the podium, unfortunately we missed out,” she said.
“Being best top-scorer is a great achievement, but this is a reward for our team work.
“We have learned from this competition and I hope that next time we will perform better to fulfil our objective,” she pointed out.