SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - With the FIBA Africa U18 Women’s Championship 2016 done and dusted in Cairo, Salimatou Kourouma’s Mali became unequivocally Africa’s best team at youth level.
A week ago, Mali not only won the tournament for the sixth time in the last ten editions, after beating hosts Egypt 84-61 in the final, but they also dismantled opponents to finish undefeated in six games.
And, by trouncing Mozambique, Uganda, Tunisia, Algeria, Angola and Egypt by 19 points or more, Mali established an unparalleled level of dominance in the tournament’s history.
No one - not even hosts Egypt backed by a partisan crowd - really looked capable of matching Mali’s physical and technical ability.
After destroying tournament debutant Uganda 143-19 in Day 2, signs of Mali’s dominance began to emerge when they dominated title contenders Tunisia 94-24.
Although Kourouma wasn’t the tournament’s MVP, she played like one.
With three double-doubles under her belt - including game-highs 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Gold Medal Game - the 16-year-old was as good as tournament’s MVP, Egypt’s Meral Abdelgawad.
The Egyptian guard headlined the All-Tournament team alongside teammate Nesma Khalifa, Silvia Veloso (Mozambique), and Mali duo of Aminata Diakite and Adama Coulibaly.
Kourouma arrived in Cairo a month after her starring role at the FIBA U17 Women’s World Championship in which she became the only player to register five double-doubles while helping Mali beat Portugal 69-47 to secure 11th place.
So, if there was a player that should have been added to the All-Tournament team in Cairo, Kourouma was certainly one.
But, Mali’s fifth continental U18 title in Cairo wasn’t really a surprise. After all, Kourouma's Mali became the first-ever African nation to record at least two wins at a FIBA U17 Women's World Championship.
Next summer, both Mali, and Egypt will represent the continent at the FIBA U19 Women’s World Championship in Italy, and with no opposition in Africa - they sit as Africa No.1 in the FIBA Ranking Youth Women - the question mark now is how far can this Mali team go on the world stage?
Although the U19 World Championship is clearly a more demanding competition, if Mali’s Basketball Federation can continue to give this team chances of participating in international friendly tournaments, they are likely to see results coming naturally next summer.
Unlike some countries in Africa, the new champions have received a major morale booster from the government with Prime Minister Modibo Keita making sure to show his support to the team.
Talking about Mali’s future international commitments, the official said: “You managed to win the trust of the Mali public. But this trust has to be considered also as a source of motivation for the next upcoming competitions. The people and the government will assist you to achieve this goal.”
If Mali can receive a much-needed financial and administrative support that has hindered African basketball, this team can surprise the basketball world next summer.