NEW ORLEANS (FIBA AfroBasket 2017) - Cheick Diallo has become the latest high-profile African player to express willingness to play at the FIBA AfroBasket 2017.
Following Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon), Gorgui Dieng (Senegal), Salah Mejri (Tunisia) and, more recently, Olimpio Cipriano (Angola) - who all confirmed their availability to represent their countries in Brazzaville in August - Mali's Diallo says he is following suit.
Although the 20-year-old is yet to be cleared by his club, the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, he believes he will take part in the 16-team FIBA Africa’s flagship tournament.
If Diallo's agent Bill Duffy is able to reach an agreement with the Pelicans, the 2.06m forward told FIBA.com: "I can assure you that I will play for Mali."
While Mali are currently the 9th African team (57th overall) in the FIBA World Ranking and are yet to win a continental championship, Diallo believes this might be about to change in years to come because of the talented players at disposal of Mali.
"My biggest dream is to win a FIBA AfroBasket title with Mali,” he said. “Bringing home a first major trophy will certainly add an important value to my future career.
"Mali has a large number of talented players and I am confident that we have the means to dominate African basketball in the coming years".
He even hopes to team up with AS Monaco's Amara Sy in the national team because "[Sy] has done a lot for Mali. The experience of such a player will be very important for our national team. But I think and I hope that he and the Malian Basketball Federation would reach an agreement."
Diallo, who left his native country of Mali as a 15-year-old to go to the United States, went on to become a top prospect over there during his time in high school and one-year college career with the Kansas Jayhawks.
Selected by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before being traded to New Orleans in last June's NBA Draft, he has had stints playing for the NBA's Developmental League teams Austin Spurs and Long Island Nets.
"Playing in the NBA D-League has been a great experience," Diallo said. "I'm still young and I need playing time. The Austin Spurs is a team with a good development programme so I did not hesitate when I was assigned to the team."
Talking about his rookie season aspirations with the Pelicans, the 20-year-old admitted that "the beginning of the season was very tough as we had a lot of injured players in the team but we are now two games close to the play-offs in the Western Conference."
Mali will be playing a FIBA AfroBasket qualifier taking on FIBA Africa Zone 3 rivals Senegal, Cape Verde and Mauritania.