KIGALI (FIBA Africa U18 Championship 2016) - Africa’s most important youth basketball tournament tips on Friday 22 July in Kigali, Rwanda, with 12 teams looking to secure one of two tickets for next year’s FIBA U19 Wold Championship in Cairo, Egypt.
FIBA.com gives you 10 reasons to follow the FIBA Africa U18 Championship 2016:
2 - Where African stars and legends are born
Serge Ibaka of the Orlando Magic was named the MVP of FIBA Africa U18 Championship 2006
Although the NBA-FIBA Basketball Without Borders Africa programme has opened the NBA doors to the likes of Gorgui Dieng, Joel Embiid and Luc Mbah a Moute, the biennial FIBA Africa U18 has revealed big names from across the continent and the world.
Well before Orlando Magic power forward Serge Ibaka acquired Spanish citizenship and went on the represent the South European country internationally, the Congolese introduced himself to the basketball world as the MVP of the FIBA Africa U18 Championship 2006.
3 - The influence of U.S high school basketball
More and more Africa-born youngsters have enrolled in high schools stateside in pursuit of an academic and/or a basketball career. This year’s FIBA Africa U18 brings you not one, not two, but almost of dozen of them.
Malian Boubacar Diakite, is a 2.03m small forward from Our Saviour New American in Centereach, New York. Bruno Fernandes and Silvio Sousa, two players coming from the Monteverde Academy in Florida, have represented Angola at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade. Still, from the U.S come Rwandan duo of Enock Kyeyune - who is linked to the Wellspring Academy - and Chester Kayonga Stony Brook School in New York.
4 - Egypt, the team to beat
Over the course of the past few years, Egypt have become the dominant force in the African basketball. The Pharaohs have won three of the last five editions of the tournaments. Regardless of their outcome in Kigali, Egypt are the only team with a ticket at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship to be held in their capital city of Cairo.
5 - Three teams to move on to the U19 World Championship
With Egypt hosting the FIBA U19 World Championship next summer - the first time the tournament is held in Africa - Mali, Tunisia and Angola look strong enough to qualify for Cairo 2017. The three nations rank second, third and fourth, respectively, in the Africa.
6 - Rwanda looking to make history
Rwanda is hosting the tournament for the second time in a decade. As hosts of the FIBA Africa U18 2010, Rwanda finished sixth, but this time around Moise Mutokambali’s team looks a lot more ambitious. They called up a number of the foreign-based Rwandans players like Lennox Niyitegaka (France), Enock Kyeyune and Chester Kayonga (both from U.S high schools) in the hope of reaching the Semi-Finals, their primary goal.
7 - Ahmed Khalaf
One of the top prospects in Egypt basketball, Khalaf is only 17 years-old, but he has already appeared in three youth World Championships - the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship, 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship and the recent 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship. . No wonder Basquete Manresa of Spanish's topflight ACB League signed the 2.06m last year.
8 - The Group of Death
Three championship contenders - Egypt, Angola and Tunisia - have been drawn in the Group B, giving fans many reasons to cheer about in the Preliminary-Round.
9 - Angola’s drought
It’s been over two decades since Angola last won a U18 competition. They won the FIBA Africa U16 three years ago. Can they win their first U18 title since 1988?
10 - Welcome newcomers
One of the highly anticipated moments is the arrivals of newcomers, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. Will they cause a surprise?
Both Rwanda and Uganda have become the driving force of basketball in the East part of the African continent.
Last summer, Uganda women’s a men’s national team made it to the continental championship for the first in more than a decade. Now they head to neighbouring Rwanda aiming at making a splash.
“We have been working very hard in grassroots programmes, and we are seeing the fruits coming to us now. Hopefully, some of these young men can one day represent the senior team,” Uganda Basketball Federation chairman Ambrose Tashobya has recently said.
Let the battle begin.