SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - As the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 lineup is now known, the battle for the crown of African basketball begins.
After three busy months of regional qualifiers across the continent, it's now all about preparing for this summer's FIBA Africa's most important event, which is expected to take place in Angola.
Although the reigning African champions haven't played a game since last August in Rio, they are expected to have a busy and exciting agenda - by facing top-ranked national teams - before heading to Angola for their title defence.
Hopefully, the outcome of Nigeria Basketball Federation's elections in June won't affect the team's preparations.
Playing without two key players - Carlos Morais and Yanick Moreira - the eleven-time African champions stormed into the Zambian capital of Lusaka to win all their four FIBA Africa Zone 6 Group 1 games against the hosts and South Africa.
By finishing runners-up in Lusaka, South Africa had a second chance and grabbed it with open arms by defeating Zimbabwe 142-137 on aggregate in the FIBA Africa Zone 6 playoff in Johannesburg.
The Proteas return to the FIBA AfroBasket for the first time since 2011.
Winners of the 2011 edition of the African championship, Tunisia had no trouble beating FIBA Africa Zone 1 rivals Algeria and Morocco in all their four games in Algiers and Tunis to qualify.
Although Morocco lost two games against Tunisia in the regional qualifier, they secured the second available qualifying spot for the African championships thanks to two wins over Algeria.
After losing two of their three games in the first leg of FIBA Africa Zone 2 in Bamako, Senegal bounced back in their capital of Dakar beating Mali, Cape Verde and Guinea to finish top of the group.
As Senegal looked dominant playing in front of their home fans, the final qualifying spot was highly contested between Guinea, Cape Verde and Mali. Eventually, Mali came up a little stronger to qualify for the Final Round.
After several attempts to compete against Africa's best teams, Guinea will finally make their return FIBA AfroBasket after being awarded one of the two wildcard invitations. It will be Guinea's first continental appearance since 1985.
Formerly a dominant force in the East Africa region, Rwanda were unable to secure direct qualification in FIBA Africa Zone 5 qualifiers, but they are heading to the Final Round thanks a wildcard invitation.
Egypt and Uganda
Playing as hosts of FIBA Africa Zone 5, Egypt saw off Uganda in the last game of the qualifier to finish undefeated in five games.
Meanwhile, Uganda secured their second straight qualification for the Final Round thanks to t 3-1 mark.
As much as Benin and Burkina Faso tried, the only qualifying spot on offer for FIBA Africa Zone 3 was destined to Cote d'Ivoire, who finished the regional qualifier undefeated in four games.
Democratic Republic of Congo
A decade on and the Congolese are back in FIBA AfroBasket. They crossed their northern border to secure a 161-144 triumph on aggregate against the Central African Republic.
Central African Republic
Winners of the 1987 edition of FIBA AfroBasket, the Central African Republic emerged aswinners of the additional qualifier on Sunday by seeing off Chad 67-64.
Although Chad almost looked prepared to cause one of the biggest upsets in the qualifiers, Cameroon made sure to prove why they are one of the top-ranked on the continent of Africa. Cameroon won all their FIBA Africa Zone 4 Group A games against Chad and Gabon to qualify for the Final for the sixth straight time.
In Southern Africa, Mozambique had little trouble in beating Zimbabwe 165-133 on aggregate to snatch the FIBA Africa Zone 6 Group H qualifying spot.
Let the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 battle begin!
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com