BAMAKO (FIBA AfroBasket 2017) - One thing Mali forward Ibrahim Djambo is certain of, is his team's need to be at its very best at FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in August in Congo-Brazzaville.
Having led his national team during last month's FIBA Africa Zone 2 qualifiers in Bamako and Dakar - where Mali experienced ups and downs against Cape Verde, Guinea and Senegal - the 2.06m forward is urging Mali's best players to come together in order to finish on the podium of the FIBA AfroBasket 2017.
While fighting for one of two tickets for the Final Round in August (19-30), Mali struggled to adjust after being stunned by Guinea in the opener of the qualifier in their capital of Bamako.
That defeat, Djambo says, served as a wake-up call for his national team who advanced to the Congo-Brazzaville showpiece with a 3-3 mark.
"To me, the toughest teams to beat in Brazzaville will be Angola and Nigeria. But I will put Mali along those two teams to finish on the podium." - Djambo
In Congo-Brazzaville, where 16 national teams from all corners of Africa will look to dethrone reigning champions Nigeria, Mali cannot afford to succumb to any type of complacency, says Djambo who last played for Alcazar Basket of Spain's third-tier.
"[During the qualifiers] we said to ourselves: 'Hey we are not that great. We got to step up and do things the way we are supposed to do'. Every team making it to the AfroBasket, that means they are good. They won't be there by chance, they will be there because they deserve to be there."
This summer's continental championship will mark Mali's seventh straight appearance in the tournament. While they last finished on the podium in 1972, Djambo feels they have the resources at their disposal to change the course of their basketball history.
"We've got a lot of quality players," Djambo said. "We are going to need to be together longer in order to have some good team cohesion. On our team, everybody plays somewhere else. We need to have some time together before we go to the AfroBasket. And more importantly, we need a good preparation.
"To be able to qualify and to represent your country is always something big. It means a lot to each of us. That's why we are always ready to represent our country, anytime, anywhere."
Asked to name Mali players that could boost Mali chances in Brazzaville, the former standout at the universities of Clemson and Hofstra had no hesitation in naming Boubacar Moungoro (Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA D-League), Mohamed Bah (Drexler University) and Cheick Diallo (New Orleans Pelicans).
"Those guys didn't play in the qualifier but would be a major plus for us," he said. "We are a good team but we've got to stay focused and treat every game the same way. To me, the toughest teams to beat in Brazzaville will be Angola and Nigeria. But I will put Mali along those two teams to finish on the podium."