3rd appearance after a single tournament absence
Will Senegal reap the awards of long term work?
After dominating African basketball until the end of the 1980s (winning four continental trophies between 1962 and 1987), Senegal has often been dominated by Angola over the past 20 years. Now, Senegal is back at the top international level and wants to rebuild its basketball. But old mistakes can always reappear…
From the outside, Senegal Basketball appears to be in perfect shape with three active NBA players (Boniface N’Dong, DeSagana Diop and Pape Sow); two 2006 NBA Draft picks (Saer Sene and Cheick Samb); and numerous players in European leagues or NCAA colleges. But if you travel to Senegal, reality is much tougher. There is only one indoor gym in the nation's capital Dakar, the Marius N’Diaye Stadium, a "relic" of the Chinese cooperation in the 1970s. Apart from the traditional clubs, which no longer have the financial capacity to travel for the African club championship, the only interesting change is the development of private academies, often financed by professional players with a link with Senegal.
But in a world of moroseness, the silver medal in the 2005 FIBA Africa Championship in Algiers was vital for Senegalese basketball. With Senegal National Teams qualified for the FIBA World Championships for men and women - something only Nigeria has done in Africa - the government in Dakar has decided to back the Basketball Federation more than ever. For example, after earning the right to organise the 2007 FIBA Africa Championship for Women, the Marius N’Diaye stadium will be renovated and a new indoor court will be built. At last, there seems to be some hope, and expectations are starting to grow in Dakar around this World Championship.
But eight weeks before the 2006 FIBA World Championship, the Minister of Sports decided to fire Abdou “Adidas” N’Diaye, the emblematic coach of the “Lions”. According to the minister, N'Diaye's lack of involvement in the development was the main reason for his firing. N’Diaye, who was supposed to run a clinic in June in Dakar, learned the news while he was on rehabilitation in a French hospital, due to a serious injury contracted during a charity game. Who will coach Senegal in Japan? Abdou N'Diaye? Somebody else? At Mid-July, when the first preparation camp started in Dijon, France, nobody really knew… "I think things will get better and that Abdou will still be our coach", Babacar Cissé said. "We – the players – won't let things go on like that. I know Abdou N'Diaye had some misunderstandings with our officials, but I do think that everything should get back as it was planned." But a few days later, it was Abdou N'Diaye's assistant, Moustapha "Tapha" Gaye, that finally took over the coaching position.
Even without Pape Sow, who plays for the Toronto Raptors and is sidelined with a neck injury, Senegal's frontcourt at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan should have consisted of two NBA players -something rare in the world of basketball. Furthermore, those two centers are different type of players who can play together. Boniface N’Dong, who was recruited last year by the Los Angeles Clippers after an impressive season with French club Dijon, has thin arms and legs, quick inside moves and an efficient shot from outside of the key. He is also a great shot-blocker and a clever rebounder. On the other hand, DeSagana Diop is massive center who reached the 2006 NBA Finals with Dallas after four non-spectacular seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, it appears that DeSagana won't come to Japan, for personal reasons, while Boniface, still expected, has not yet given any news to the National Team staff… Two other efficient inside players can be added. Mamadou N’Diaye left the NBA only last year and had a good season in Greece with PAOK.
N'Diaye was part of the Senegal National Team which played at the 1998 FIBA World Championship. At last, Senegal can count on Malick Badiane, who still plays in Germany with the Frankfurt Skyliners while waiting for his chance to join the NBA.
On the outside, Babacar Cissé is the captain and the best point guard of the “Gaindé” (which means "Lions" in Wollof, the most spread local dialect). He may feel a bit lonely in the backcourt where talent, experience and depth will be lacking. The rest of the team is playing in France, with second and third division clubs, or still in NCAA. Playing in his last competition, Makhtar N’Diaye, who was part of the 1998 team in Greece and of the 1997 African Champion team, would have loved to have played France, where he played for most of his career. But the former University of North Carolina graduate instead gets the honour to defend Lamar Odom, Elton Brand and other NBA stars during the game against the United States.
In the Group D in Sapporo, Senegal might suffer. Slovenia, Italy and USA will be mountains to climb. What about China? Senegal can match-up inside with Yao Ming, but will the backcourt be consistent enough to resist to the Chinese artillery behind the 3-point line? Who knows? Senegal should compete with Puerto Rico and the Chinese for fourth place in the group and advance to the Round of 16 - and that's certainly a tough task.