Ibrahima Thomas

Dakar stepping stone to great things for Thomas and Monastir

Monastir have a target on their back

LISTENING to Senegalese big man Ibrahima Thomas speak, you get a sense of a man oozing confidence and one willing to give his blood and sweat to help US Monastir defend their Basketball Africa League (BAL) title.

A sense of familiarity also engulfs the 2.13m (7 ft0) centre, who joined the Tunisian super club before the start of the BAL. Some of his teammates were once his rivals when Thomas wore the colours of 13-time Tunisian league champions Etoile Sportive de Rades in 2018. 

Also, the Sahara Conference leg of the BAL, which is underway, is taking place at a geographical location well-known to Thomas. Dakar, the capital city of Senegal and Thomas’ birthplace, is the setting where Monastir hope to take the first step in retaining their continental crown.

Ibrahima Thomas wanted to join a team with a winning culture. Pictures: Getty Images

And so far, it’s been a decent start for the Tunisians, who have a 2-1 record in their Conference. Monastir secured wins over Stade Malien and Kwara Falcons, while their solitary defeat came at the hands of ABC Fighters on Friday night.

Thomas, who spoke to The Big Tip Off on Thursday, says playing at the Dakar Arena has been a gratifying experience.

“It’s a great feeling… Getting to play in front of your friends and family. We play overseas or in other parts of the continent, and they watch us on tv. But there is nothing better than playing at the stadium and them watching you,” said the 36-year-old. “It’s not only at the stadium but also you being mentioned ‘at home’. I cannot describe that feeling.”

While savouring the feeling of playing in his backyard, Thomas revealed that joining a successful club like Monastir was a no-brainer. A history factor also pushed the former Lion of Teranga player to join the North African club.

“It was easy. I played in Tunisia, and we beat them in a final when I was with Rades. So, I know the players of Monastir, and some of them are my close friends. When I was with our national team, I would also have encounters with them. Some of them were also teammates of mine, so it was an easy decision to make,” said Thomas, who played in the inaugural BAL season for Mali’s AS Police. “They are also a championship team. When you come to a tournament like this, you want to join a winning team. So, joining a team with a winning history and having teammates I know well has made things easy.”

Ibrahima Thomas
Ibrahima Thomas has put on great individual performances for Monastir.

Thomas also feels the BAL champions have a target on their back, and as they navigate the Sahara Conference, they are still having to find their feet as a team.

“In the first BAL, this team finished second, and now they arrive as champions, so they are the team to beat. We have been together for a short time, so we are still building the chemistry. For players like me, Jerome (Randle) and the coach (Linos Gavriel), who got here before the tournament started, it’s a learning process,” said Thomas, a bronze medal winner at the 2013 AfroBasket. “This is not tennis. It’s a team sport. As a team, we can get better when we do things right on the court. Hopefully, it will pay off, and we will qualify for the playoffs in Rwanda. If we do, it will give us time to improve our chemistry because we will have played together for a month.”

Despite Thomas’ notion that team chemistry is an issue, his productivity and numbers have made for good reading. Thomas has notched two double-doubles and one twenty point game (11 pts and 12 rebounds against Stade Malien, 22 pts against Kwara Falcons and 14 pts and ten rebounds against ABC). 

 

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While he has had a great start in his first three games, Thomas has not gotten carried away.

“It’s basketball, and I have come here to play. As I said, this is a team sport. Yesterday (Wednesday), I had a twenty-point game, and maybe in the next game, I might have a twenty-rebound game,” said Thomas. “You have to see what the opposing defence gives. You have to study the ins and outs of the game. So far it’s been good for our team.”

Despite the slip-up against ABC Fighters, third-placed Monastir are still on course to qualify for the quarterfinals in Kigali. Their championship pedigree could count in their favour in the final fixtures against REG, who have already qualified for the last eight, and AS Douanes.

And with a seasoned campaigner like Thomas performing at peak level, the chips could still fall in the direction of Monastir.

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