SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - Guinea, the DR Congo and South Sudan are nations that basketball fans probably haven’t heard much in recent years, but they made their names heard in the first week of FIBA AfroBasket 2017 qualifiers.
From stunning big names to becoming a country to be reckoned with, these three nations couldn’t be overlooked from last week’s qualifiers action.
At this moment in time, it’s fair to name Guinea as the team of the entire FIBA AfroBasket Qualifiers.
They have come out of nowhere beating Mali and Senegal in such a convincing fashion, which makes us wonder, ‘What comes next’?.
And - with exception of Cape Verde - few teams seem able to figure out how to stop Guinea.
By beating hosts Mali in the tournament opener it seemed as if something odd was about to happen. Twenty-four hours later, Guinea confirmed they were Bamako to put their country's name on the international basketball map.
They outplayed Senegal - the fourth high-ranked team in Africa - winning 68-55. And one key element of Guinea’s impact throughout the qualifiers goes by the name of Cedric Mansare, a 1.98m forward who buried 11 three-pointers against Mali and Senegal.
The question now is: Can they go all the way in Dakar where the qualifier will resume from March 24-26? There are only two tickets on offer Congo-Brazzaville.
It’s going to be challenging for Guinea, but if they can play as consistently as they did in Bamako, then, get ready for history. They last appeared at FIBA AfroBasket in 1985.
By beating Somalia, Burundi and Rwanda, and qualifying for the FIBA AfroBasket Final Round for the second time in a row, Uganda became officially the basketball dominant force in the East African region.
Uganda's continuing success in the region has ended Rwanda's four straight FIBA AfroBasket appearances, dating back to 2007.
However, being East Africa's rulers doesn't necessarily mean they rule the FIBA Africa Zone 5. That status belongs to Egypt, who finished their qualifier undefeated in five games.
3. South Sudan
The newest country in Africa brought in 9 rather than the official 12 players to the qualifiers, and although they missed out on the qualification Jerry Steele's team became a team to be reckoned with in years to come.
They defeated Kenya twice to finish their qualifier campaign with a 2-2 mark.
The former African champions are on verge of becoming North Africa's dominant. Tunisia secured a commanding 2-0 record in the first leg of the qualifiers in Algiers thanks to wins over hosts Algeria and Morocco.
Now, the qualifier switches to Tunisia, where they are likely to seal their ticket to Congo-Brazzaville.
5. DR Congo
The Congolese last appeared in FIBA AfroBasket competition 10 years ago, when neighbours Angola hosted the tournament. Now that, yet another neighbour prepares to organise the FIBA Africa's biggest basketball event, the DR Congo look stronger than ever. They could prevent the Central African Republic from making it to the Final Round for the first ever.
As of Monday 20 March, the DR Congo lead the qualifier 1-0 over CAF.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com