TUNIS (FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers) - Mourad El Mabrouk - the man who hit one of Tunisia's most important shots in recent years - knows a few things to help his country succeed during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers.
Tunisia have been drawn in Group A of African Qualifiers alongside Guinea, South Africa and Cameroon.
Although the qualifiers won't begin until November, the 30-year-old shooting guard is urging his national teammates to minimise their Number 2 status in the NIKE FIBA Africa Rankings and take opponents seriously.
"Our mindset is to avoid overlooking our opponents," El Mabrouk said to FIBA.com. "We can’t do that if we are to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup."
Playing as hosts of FIBA AfroBasket 2015, El Mabrouk rescued Tunisia from what could have been the biggest upset in the tournament by hitting a three-pointer with two seconds to deny Morocco in the overtime in the Round of 16.
Now, the man who has helped Etoile Sportive de Rades win the Tunisian ''Championnat Ooredoo de Basket-Ball'' over the weekend, says taking opponents lightly is the attitude Tunisia must avoid at all costs in order to return to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time since 2010.
"It’ll be tough for us, especially as Salah [Mejri] - and maybe Michael [Roll] - might not be available for the qualifiers. But we are confident we'll be able to play the best we can. Our fans created a tremendous atmosphere during the [FIBA AfroBasket 2017] qualifiers in March here in Tunis, and we hope to keep that momentum for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 qualifiers," the 6ft2in (1.89m) guard noted.
Regular competitors on the world stage competitions in recent years, Tunisia last summer tried to make back-to-back appearances at the Olympics but they fell short losing to Italy and Croatia during the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Turin.
Yet, El Mabrouk insists China 2019 is where they want to be.
"Most of our players know the importance of playing at such a big tournament, and we’ll do everything in our power to reach that goal. I didn’t play in FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010, but I am very much looking forward to being able to play in China 2019."
Asked to evaluate their Group A opponents, El Mabrouk said: "We have played Cameroon a few times during the preparations for the FIBA AfroBasket 2015. They are a great team with great players. If they bring their best players, I am sure they will be one of the five African teams to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019''.
"I don’t know much about Guinea, but if they are in the qualifiers it’s because they deserve to be there. We have played South Africa in 2011, we beat them [in Round of 16] but we needed to play our very best game.
"Angola, Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria and Cameroon - these five teams are the strongest to qualify for China 2019," he explained.