Joel Almeida World Cup dreams

Almeida, Cape Verde dream big ahead of World Cup

ONE of sports most iconic figures and a master of famous one liners, Muhammed Ali, once stated, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough”. 

Ali’s powerful words have found resonance with Cape Verde’s shooting guard Joel Almeida. Why? You might ask. Almeida and his teammates wrote themselves into history when they achieved the unimaginable in international basketball. And in a couple of days, they will foray into uncharted waters.

Their destination is the FIBA World Cup, co-hosted by Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines, commencing in a couple of days (25 August – 10 September). 

Ahead of his country’s World Cup debut, Almeida reflected on a journey peppered with the themes of self-actualisation, nostalgia and a healthy dose of a fear of the unknown.

Understanding the process

For Almeida, being a part of this epic narrative in Cape Verde’s basketball history is a fulfilment of a dream. 

The 36-year-old explained to The Big Tip Off that, as a youngster playing in a World Cup is something he imagined, but initially felt out of reach.

“When you are a young player, you have many dreams. You dream of hitting that buzzer-beater that wins the game. You dream of celebrating winning a championship or being at a World Cup or an Olympics,” said Almeida, who was in the United States with the national team. “Every player has those dreams, but when you are young, it’s something that’s so far away. When you start playing and dedicating yourself, the road gets shorter. 

“When you start achieving those successes, like winning a championship, it clicks that this is the process you go through to achieve certain goals. I know getting to the destination (World Cup) is the goal, but there is a lot of road to travel through to get there.”  

Joel Almeida chasing big dreams
Joel Almeida believes Cape Verde should have bigger dreams at the World Cup. Picture: The BTO

One of the senior leaders in the team, Almeida along with giant star centre Walter Tavares, younger brother Ivan and Betinho Gomes were part of the veteran core that helped Cape Verde achieve history. Almeida emphasized the importance of the elder statesmen in the team and the guidance they offer.

“I always say basketball is a maturity sport. It (qualification for World Cup) came at the right time because of the growth of every player and experience we accumulated over the years,” said Almeida. Having that veteran experience helped tremendously. Also the injection of young players helped us move forward because we have to look to the future.

“That combination of youth and experience helped us get to where we are. Basketball is a high IQ game, with the veteran leadership we were able to overcome adversity. It also sets you up for success.”

Sharing blood and sweat with Ivan

While Almeida has gushed over qualifying for the World Cup, what has made the journey even more enjoyable, is that he got to share the moment with his younger brother, Ivan.

The sibling duo joined at the hip from their first senior international competition in 2009 (AfroBasket), played in the decisive victory over Cote d’Ivoire at the final window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers in February (in Angola). 

“Having that moment with your brother is the best feeling in the world. Even if he didn’t play basketball and he was there, it would have been the best feeling,” said Almeida. “But having your brother on the team and sharing that moment with him… it’s just different. It’s a special feeling.

“Knowing that we achieved a dream together and for Cape Verde. Sharing that moment is something that will remain forever in my memory.”

Almeida’s full circle moment

One of the stops before the start of the tournament for Cape Verde was the US. It is also where the former Brockport State player refined his game, and being there has a sentimental bearing.

“It’s emotional because it’s a full circle moment. When I left the States after playing college basketball, I never thought I would come back and be preparing for the World Cup here,” said Almeida. “It touches me deeply because this is where everything started. It’s a beautiful feeling.

“Also, one the largest communities from the Cape Verde diaspora is based here. So feeling their warmth and energy makes us feel at home.”


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A post shared by Joel Almeida (@jfalmeida85)

Cape Verde to the world

When the week begins, the temporary home comforts in the US will be a thing of the past. Cape Verde, semi-finalists at the 2021 AfroBasket, will be in Asia. The gaze of the world will focus on them, eager to see what they are capable of.   

In Group F, their opponents, Georgia, Venezuela and Slovenia, also lie in wait, ready to size up the islanders, representing 600 000 hopeful people.

It is a challenge Almeida accepts and his knowledge of their first opponents, Georgia could be a plus for his team. The Eastern Europeans will have the likes of NBA players Goga Bitadze (Orlando Magic) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (San Antonio Spurs) in their arsenal.

“I played in Georgia for two seasons. I am familiar with their players. A lot of the players play in the local league. They are a skilled and physical team, but we must go out there and execute our game plan. We have to show we deserve to be on this stage by taking care of business,” said Almeida, a two-time Georgian Cup winner with Kutaisi. 

He also shared his thoughts about Cape Verde’s remaining games against Venezuela and Slovenia, who will have the phenomenal Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.

“Venezuela is a great South American team. They are here because they are one of the best teams in their region. Slovenia will also offer a good match up. Everything will go down to execution and staying competitive for 40 minutes,” said Almeida.

“We respect these teams (Georgia, Venezuela and Georgia). But we also want to make our history. We are hungry for more. That is the attitude we have and it will help us when the tournament starts.”

Joel Almeida and Ivan Almeida World Cup
Joel Almeida embraces his younger brother, Ivan, after qualifying for the World Cup.

Setting the bar high

Judging from Almeida’s talk, Cape Verde wants to do more than fulfill a desire to participate in the World Cup. He believes they should have bigger dreams at this stage.

“I always set high standards in everything I do. You have to aim for the stars and hope to land on the moon. And those goals have to scare you. If those objectives scare you, then I believe mentally, you will be prepared to achieve those higher goals,” Almeida said. “That is how we have to approach the tournament. We have to expect the best from ourselves.” 

Only those in the inner sanctum of Cape Verde know what it took to reach the epitome of basketball competition. And, if Almeida and the islanders want to go to infinity and beyond, it’s because they know how far wild ambition can get you.

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