LEVICE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Cote d'Ivoire's glory days are quite some time off. But veteran Souleyman Diabate is hoping to lead his country back towards the top starting with the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers.
But the Cocody native has seen Cote d'Ivoire experience some highlights, including playing at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010; reaching the FIBA AfroBasket Final in 2009 and making the Semi-Finals in 2011 and 2013.
The Elephants did win two games at FIBA AfroBasket 2015 before losing to Mali in the Round of 16. But Diabate and co. could not grab a single victory last summer, losing all three games in the group stage of AfroBasket 2017.
"And we also need better preparation because in international competition you are not going to win if you are not ready, especially against good players."
"Our goal in Mozambique is to finish first in the group. I think we have the potential," he said. "With a new coaching staff (with head coach Anthony Coleman), it will be more difficult but we have great chance to make it happen because Senegal will not have all their NBA players."
Cote d'Ivoire start with a showdown with hosts Mozambique on February 23 before facing Senegal a day later and finishing with CAF on February 25.
"The key games will be Central African Republic and Mozambique. They are must-win games for us. Against Senegal it's a 50/50 chance to win depending on the players that they bring. So we need to focus on our team," Diabate said.
"We just need our complete team and understand that our goal is to go to the World Cup. So the players, management and coaching staff all need to be on the same page," he pointed out. "We need to be in good conditions off the court so we can only focus on playing hard."
The Elephants squad at FIBA AfroBasket 2017 included six players aged 25 years or younger. Diabate knows that and he wants to help guide the youngsters in Mozambique.
"Now I feel like an example for kids who start to play for the country. I try to show how you should be proud when you have a chance to play for the country. And also being here, I want to push our good players to come and to win one FIBA AfroBasket title. That's my role. We are preparing the next generation," he explained.
Hopefully with the country's first World Cup berth since 2010.