SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - As national teams begin preparations for the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 qualifiers, I'll look at some of the most frequently asked questions about the continent’s flagship basketball tournament.
There is so much at stake at this year's FIBA AfroBasket that it becomes almost impossible to stop talking about it even though it will only take place in August (19-30) in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
Note: (As of 27 February 2017, Nigeria and hosts the Republic of Congo are the only qualified national teams, but I am assuming that a number of teams mentioned in this column are likely to advance to Brazzaville).
1. Who can rival Nigeria at FIBA AfroBasket 2017?
At this moment in time, and judging by the Nigeria's display at the Rio Olympics I can only see two African teams able of matching the African champions’ prowess.
If Nigeria show up in Brazzaville with at least eight players from Rio (they are blessed to have so many talents at their disposal that they rarely keep the same team from one tournament to the next) and keep coach Will Voigt and his assistants, they will automatically become the frontrunners.
However, that frontrunner status could be matched by Senegal and Cameroon.
And, that will be the case if Senegal keep the majority of players from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manilla, add Gorgui Dieng, bring back guard Xane D’Almeida and pick one or two US College players like Pape Diatta.
2. Why does FIBA AfroBasket 2017 matter so much?
As a result of FIBA's Competition System 2017+ coming into effect in November, this summer's tournament will be its last biennial edition with the next one taking place four years from now, in 2021.
This is a major change to the African basketball landscape, and national teams seem to be rushing to secure their places for Brazzaville.
3. Will there be a surprise team?
Morocco are good enough to cause some upsets in Brazzaville (again, I am assuming they will succeed in the FIBA Africa Zone 1 Qualifier next month).
4. What should be expected from so-called small teams?
Egypt aren't really a small team, but after dominating the game in the 1980s they fell from grace in 1990s.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com