DAKAR (FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2017) - Senegal are 12-time record champions of the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket and whoever doubts their prowess does so at their own risk and peril.
Captain Aya Traore has been on the court to witness two gold medals including 2009 in Madagascar and at the 2015 edition in Cameroon.
'' This type of competition is never easy but always have the same mindset, which is trying to be the best ''. -Traore
With this in mind, qualifying for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018 in Spain is at stake and after missing out on the 2014 edition, Traore knows it is very important to win in Mali for a place on the big stage.
The feeling when Senegal played at the Rio 2016 Olympics was that of fulfilment and now she is still at it chasing yet another dream.
Traore took some time off to speak to FIBA.com about her dream to retain their title, play in Spain next year and stay at the top.
How far are your preparations for the Mali showpiece?
Most leagues are still going on with players playing for their respective teams at this time but I think most teams have started their preparations in their own way.
How important is it that you come into this tournament with an experienced squad?
It is always an asset to have experienced players on any given team. Those are the ones who have been around long enough to really know what it takes to get to the top. It benefits the team in all aspects.
Senegal have dominated African women's basketball for a long time now. How will you maintain this dominance at this year's event in Mali?
We are very thankful and appreciative of what God has allowed us to do over the past years and that all started with our elders before us. This type of competition is never easy but always have the same mindset, which is trying to be the best that we can be and do whatever it takes to be successful.
'' I cannot predict if the home team or any other team will make it to the Finals but I can say that we are going to be on a mission ''. - Traore
You were MVP at the 2015 edition in Cameroon, do you think you can replicate that performance?
My main focus is to do whatever I have to do to help my team succeed. That is the ultimate goal.
Angola and Mali will be looking to win the title too and have been consistent in the last decade. Are you worried about these two teams and are there any other teams that you think will challenge?
All teams are challenging. You cannot just pick some teams and overlook the other ones. They are all in the tournament for a reason. You never know how it’s going exactly. On any given night anything can happen. Everyone is going to come out and compete.
On a personal and team note, what are your objectives at the tournament in Mali? Does it help in any way that you will play in Mali or do you think Mali will have home advantage as we saw Cameroon made it to the Final in 2015 as hosts?
I cannot predict if the home team or any other team will make it to the Finals but I can say that we are going to be on a mission. This type of competition is not easy and you cannot approach it thinking you can just go and pick up the trophy. Our objectives for the tournament have always been the same. That’s not easy to do, to get back and position yourself to win a championship but we are going to be pretty hungry. It definitely takes a lot but when the time comes we will be ready for the challenge.
The two teams that will play in the final will book a place to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup next year. How important is it for Senegal to make it to the top two in a tournament where the stakes are very high?
It's very important because we always want to be there. Senegal missed out on the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2014. So, it will be a huge relief to be back at that stage again.