SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Sixteen African teams have been drawn into four groups of four to do battle for the ultimate goal of winning the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in Dakar and Tunis from September 8-16.
But what exactly does the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 draw say?
So one of those four teams will win the FIBA AfroBasket 2017.
Nigeria have quality players, a skilled coaching staff and are keen to dominate African basketball in years to come. So they are unquestionably favorites to top Group A, which includes DR Congo, Mali and Cote d'Ivoire.
Nevertheless, Nigeria currently face some serious issues.
As I write this column, it remains to be decided who runs the country's basketball federation as two sets of elections have been held by two different groups in two Nigerian cities.
Remember when Nigeria announced they would play top-ranked teams in the build-up to the AfroBasket 2017?
Well, this uncertainty might jeopardize the team's preparations.
The sooner the Nigeria Olympic Committee decides who legitimately runs the sport in the country, the bigger chances Nigeria have to prepare their continental title defense.
But how about the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 outsiders? Can they make some noise this summer?
In an African tournament that will, for the first time, be hosted by two countries - Senegal and Tunisia - something extraordinary is expected from the so-called small teams.
Looking into what happened during the qualifiers, it's fair to say Guinea, DR Congo and Uganda seem prepared to write a new chapter in the history of the competition.
Why and how? Basketball in Africa is changing for good. Teams start to realize that taking the African Championship seriously and attracting skilled players as well as a knowledgeable coaching staff are key factors to develop the sport back home.
Who would have thought that Guinea would beat Senegal and get the better of Mali in Mali during the qualifiers? Who would have predicted that Uganda would reach the Finals for the second time in a row and become the powerhouse in the East Africa region? Ten years on since last playing in the competition and the DR Congo are back in the 16-team field after edging out former African Champions the Central African Republic in the qualifiers.
In a recent interview with FIBA.basketball, Uganda's Stanley Ocitti reaffirmed that they "will surprise a lot of people this time round. We have learned from the last time."
The DR Congo coach Charly Buzangu told me a few days ago: "We are going to play one game at a time as we aim to build a strong team. It’s going to be a tough pool for us, but we’ll make sure to build a solid and competitive team which represents our country the best way possible."
Let the battle begin.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com