All five African teams picked up one win out of three at the FIBA World Cup in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, but none were able to clinch a second victory that would have seen them progress to the second round.
Still, there were plenty of signs that the future is bright for the continent, which has been boosted by the launch of the NBA-backed Basketball Africa League (BAL), and places at the Paris 2024 Olympics are still to play for.
The five African teams — Angola, South Sudan, Cape Verde, Egypt and Ivory Coast — managed a collective five group stage victories, compared to the three that African teams had pulled off in the 2019 World Cup.
This time, Angola beat the Philippines 80-70 in Group A, but lost to Italy and the Dominican Republic. South Sudan were convincing in an 89-69 win over China in Group B, but an overtime loss to Puerto Rico and a humbling at the hands of Serbia saw the Bright Stars pipped at the post.
Egypt beat Mexico 100-72, but had by then already suffered heavy defeats to Lithuania and Montenegro. Cape Verde’s 81-75 win over Venezuela was sandwiched between defeats to Georgia and Luka Doncic‘s Slovenia, while Ivory Coast’s 71-69 win over Iran could not cover ground lost in defeats to Spain and Brazil.
Four years ago in China, Tunisia, Nigeria and Angola all managed group stage wins, but Senegal and Ivory Coast went into the classification rounds empty-handed.
Although all five participants will now have to play the 17th-32nd classification round, they will at least all head into that with some confidence.
Guards Ehab Amin and Carlik Jones were superb offensively for Egypt and South Sudan respectively, but the story to be remembered from these group stage games was that of 16-year-old South Sudan center Khaman Maluach, the youngest player at the World Cup and the third-youngest ever to feature at the tournament.
The NBA Africa Academy prospect was included in South Sudan’s World Cup squad, although he and the federation had believed until the eleventh hour that he would be ineligible to play in the tournament as he was not yet 17.
Upon finding out that age limits did not apply at this tournament, the Bright Stars made the most of their teenage once-in-a-lifetime talent, who made his debut in the win over China with a game-leading six rebounds.
Even against the mighty Serbia, Maluach did not look out of place. The sight of the 16-year-old rising above Nikola Jovic for a rebound and then lobbing a two over the Miami Heat forward with expert precision will live long in the memory.
Jovic, it must be said, was overall totally dominant against South Sudan, and their inability to find an answer to him as he knocked down 25 points and went 9-9 from FG shooting and 5-5 from three-pointers showed the difference between one of the world’s best teams and arguably Africa’s best.
Nevertheless, the moments in which we caught glimpses of what might be possible in the future were enough to vindicate the NBA’s heavy investment in Africa.
At the last World Cup, Nigeria were the highest-ranked African team, with a superb performance in the classification games seeing them finish 17th and edge out the equally impressive Tunisia to qualify for the Olympics on points difference.
With an automatic place at Paris 2024 still to play for, there is still plenty on the line for Africa’s five best teams. Against similarly ranked opponents, expect some players’ talents to stand out more than they did against the world’s big guns.
Angola and South Sudan will face off in Group M, together with the Philippines and China. Egypt, meanwhile, will be in Group N with New Zealand, Jordan and the Mexico side who they recently resoundingly beat.
Cape Verde are in Group O with Japan, Venezuela and Finland, while Ivory Coast have probably the toughest task of the five in Group P with France, Iran and Lebanon.
Source : ESPN