SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Mali international Naignouma Coulibaly over the weekend became the latest player to remind everyone how much basketball talent Africa has to offer.
Just last month, Nigerian Adaora Elonu was named the MVP of Spain's Copa de la Reina (Queen's Cup) after leading CB Conquero to a 60-52 win over Perfumerias Avenida. It was a remarkable achievement for the Huelva-based club as it won a first-ever national title.
Although Nigeria is the lowest ranked side (42nd in the FIBA Ranking) in the 12-team event, with Elonu in the team, the Western Africans should be capable of making some noise.
As I mentioned earlier, Spar Citylift Girona center Coulibaly has also risen to the occasion in a manner similar to what she has done for her country in recent years. Over the weekend, she dominated the paint, made her physical presence felt by scoring points and blocking shots. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as Girona fell short in Spain's Liga Femenina title game against Senegal-born Astou Ndour's Perfumerias Avenida.
Throughout the best-of-three- Finals, Coulibaly - one of my favourite African players along with her fellow Malian Djene Diawara, Mozambique’s Deolinda Ngulela, just to mention a few - was simply phenomenal.
Her numbers were impressive as the 27-year-old had double-doubles in all three games and, despite Spar Citylift Girona's 2-1 series loss, Coulibaly was named the Finals' Most Valuable Player.
In the process, the 1.92m centre headlined the Finals top-5 alongside Chrissy Givens, Alana Beard (USA), Silvia Dominguez (Spain) and Vanessa Gidden (Jamaica).
"I fought really hard to win the title, but we were unfortunate from the free-throw line," Coulibaly said after the game. "I felt a lot better in the final stretch of the season as the team played a slow-paced game, which has helped my game."
Despite the injuries we suffered, reaching Game 3 of the Finals is a major accomplishment. - Coulibaly
Prior to last October's AfroBasket Women 2015, I ranked among Mali among the favourites to win the continental trophy.
Coulibaly and her team headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, a few days after winning the 2016 All-African Games, but against all the odds, the Malians fell short and could only manage a fifth-place finish.
Despite averaging 9.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, Coulibaly herself was from her best.
What she has done was remind everyone what I always believed - that Mali has some of the best women's basketball players on the African continent. There just needs to be a bit more coordination and bringing the country's best players together. If they do so, then Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola will have a tough opponent on their hands.
During the 2015-16 Liga Femenina campaign, Africa was well represented by the Senegalese trio of Aya Traore, Oumoul Thiam and Oumoul Sarr; Angolan international Italy Lucas and Abidjan-born Spain international Vanessa Doukole. But it was Coulibaly and Elonu who made the biggest difference. Elonu, for instance, is being tipped to join the new champions Perfumerías Avenida.
Congratulations to Naignouma and African basketball;s crew in Spain's Liga Femenina.