DALLAS (FIBA AfroBasket 2017) - Tunisian international Salah Mejri can't wait to play for his national team again, especially after the North Africans recently appointed Mario Palma as the senior men's new head coach.
"One of the good things about the New Competition System is that small national teams could grow by playing against big teams. Who doesn't want to play in the tournament like the World Cup? It's gonna be great for African national teams for sure." - Mejri
The Tunisians are expected to qualify for next summer's FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, and the AfroBasket 2011 MVP is making sure to embrace the new era his national team is entering.
"I haven't spoken to coach Palma yet but he needs no introduction," he told FIBA.com. "He is a winner and had tremendous success with the Angolan national team. I look forward to working with him. Hopefully, he can help us win another African championship."
The Portuguese-Angolan tactician has won four AfroBasket titles while at the helm of Angola. It didn't take long for the Tunisians to see him as the best candidate to fill the void left following the departure of Adel Tlatli after Palma led Club Africain to the local league title after just five months in Tunisia.
"Some of my national team teammates play for him in the Tunisian league and they like working with him," Mejri noted.
As hosts of the AfroBasket in 2015, Tunisia couldn't do better than a 3rd-place finish.
He might have his last shot in Brazzaville and looks to say goodbye to his national team with a gold medal around his neck.
"That is a goal for me, that is for sure," he said. "It is most likely going to be my last AfroBasket with my national team as I will be a bit old for the one after the 2017 edition. It is going to be special for me. I would like to play for the national team and with my teammates in order to achieve something big next summer.
"We have a great opportunity at FIBA AfroBasket 2017. The most important [thing] is to be healthy again and play well in the next competitions."
Mejri also discussed the merits of FIBA's New Competition System, which will come into effect from November 2017.
Additionally, the number of participating teams in the FIBA Basketball World Cup will increase from 24 to 32, with Africa being allocated five places instead of three.
"One of the good things about the new system is that small national teams could grow by playing against big teams. Who doesn’t want to play in the tournament like the World Cup? It's gonna be great for African national teams for sure," he enthused.
Mejri is happy that clubs from some leagues around the world will support their players in representing their national teams.
"When you play professional basketball, the clubs who pay your salary tend to take care of you. They want you to be healthy. If national teams look after a player the same way, and if the new [FIBA] players' insurance policies are real, then players can be more motivated to represent their countries, for sure," he explained.
"Personally, I love playing for my national team because the national team is very important for me."