SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - The Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament served as a reminder of how much African teams need to work - on and off the court - to break into the world's elite.
The Senegalese lost all five of their Group B games against the USA, Spain, Serbia - the three medalists in Rio - Canada and China. With the exception of the games against the Canadians and Serbs, Senegal were outplayed against the Americans, Spanish, and Chinese.
From the African perspective, Senegal's Olympic campaign was a complete disappointment because the African champions are supposed to do better. But looking thoroughly into the team's preparations, it's fair to say they achieved what they worked for.
Even though Senegal currently lead all African teams in the FIBA World Ranking Women, it came as no surprise when the team's head coach Moustapha Gaye admitted to the local media that the African champions "haven't yet reached the world level".
While playing at Rio de Janeiro's Deodoro Youth Arena, the Senegalese won the hearts of the crowd. Some will argue this was the case because fans love underdogs.
Senegal were far from being front-runners in Rio, but even so the country's basketball federation could have prepared the team better.
After taking part in a three-game warm-up series against Japan in Tokyo in early July, the Senegalese could not attend friendly tournaments against Serbia and Italy and spent the rest of their preparations playing local teams in the country's capital Dakar, which weren’t good enough to prepare them for the competitiveness of the Olympics.
To make matters worse, fans were infuriated after learning how much energy players spent during the team's trip to Rio. The team reportedly traveled from Dakar to Bamako (Mali), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in the Eastern part of Africa before reaching Luanda in Southern Africa from where they flew to Rio.
For a team that qualified for Rio last October, such poor traveling plans are inexplicable, especially when Senegal could have reached Brazil traveling from neighboring Cape Verde.
Until proper management is put in place, judging a team that has previously shown signs of some competitiveness will always be challenging. The damage is done and the Senegalese are now focusing on next year’s AfroBasket Women.
And Gaye is urging the media to avoid referring to the players' age as a problem. With an average of 30 years of age, Senegal competed in Rio with the oldest squad.
"We must stop saying they are old," Gaye said. "Players who are 31 or 32 years can still bring good things. Just take a look at Americans players. They have 35-year-old players and yet they get the results. So we need to stop discouraging our players, because if we lose them, we will face difficulties."