SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - It's not exaggerated to say that coach Mario Palma knows and dominates African basketball better than most, and the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 has just confirmed it.
So when the Tunisian Basketball Federation invited Palma to replace highly skilled coach Adel Tlatli a year ago, they believed he would keep or improve their chances of winning their second FIBA African Championship title.
That decision was made seven months before the Republic of Congo withdrew from hosting the tournament, leaving Tunisia and Senegal as co-hosts of the latest FIBA Africa's most important tournament.
And, just as he did four times previously in charge of Angola (1999, 2001, 2003 and 2005), Palma two weeks ago inspired Tunisia to their first African title since 2011 to become a FIBA AfroBasket's most successful head coach.
"There are no secrets," he replied. "The key point to help a team win games is to create a good atmosphere among players. We were able to implement a functional training schedule, we built a team chemistry and more importantly, we kept everyone involved motivated."
And as a result of his four African titles at helm of Angola, Palma entered the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 with an impressive 28-1 winning-record dating back to 1999.
I wondered what August 6, 2001 means to his career.
To my surprise Palma has vivid memories of that day when Angola lost 78-70 to Algeria [his only FIBA AfroBasket defeat since 1999] during the 2001 FIBA AfroBasket Group Phase game held in Morocco.
"I still don't know how we managed to win that African Championship. It was a miracle," he recalled.
"Organisers did everything they could to jeopardise us, but we fought back and defeated Algeria in the final."
Now, that Tunisia are set to hold the FIBA AfroBasket crown for the next four years, Palma reveals how he encouraged his team throughout the tournament.
"Senegal were clearly favourites to win the title," the Angolan-Portuguese admitted.
"They had the best players, and they were well coached. There might be a reason why they always lose in critical moments of a tournament. But they have lost the Championship [defeated by Nigeria in the Semi-Final] because they were overconfident.
"I honestly thought we would face Senegal in the final, although I thought that Nigeria had talented players. While we didn't have the best players in the tournament, we had the best team. We have played as a team, we never gave up, and the title came naturally."
Palma's journey to African basketball stardom began in 1980 when he led Angola to the Junior FIBA African Championship title.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com