Diabate brings the right fuel to Petro’s BAL quest

First BAL title meant the most to Diabate

SOULEYMANOU Diabate never imagined when he left his homeland of Cote d’Ivoire as a teenager that his name and his game would reach the fame that it has, internationally.

The point guard, popularly known as Solo, who spoke to The Big Tip Off last Thursday, intimated that basketball was one of the reasons he had travelled to France, but he did not, in his wildest dreams, think he would go pro.

“It was one of the best things I experienced. I left my parents at fourteen to go to France to study and play basketball. To reach the level that I did, playing in the French first division, a league second to the NBA, was a blessing. I enjoyed my time there, and now I am back in Africa,” said Diabate, who turned pro in 2006. “Honestly, I just played the game for enjoyment. I did not think of playing the game at the highest level. After two or three years in France, I realised I could go far with the game. The coaches who watched and encouraged me also made me realise I had to take the chance, and I did.”

Solo Diabate
Solo Diabate brings title credentials to Petro de Luanda. Pictures: Cheick Haidara

The 37-year-old spent 15 years playing overseas with countries like France, where his pro career started, Macedonia and China.

While Diabate had a solid playing career abroad, his return to Africa has yielded spectacular returns and enhanced his reputation as a winner. The 1.83m (6 ft0) floor general helped Egyptian super club Zamalek capture the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) title two years ago. A year later, he would become the only player to win back-to-back BAL titles, this time with Tunisia’s US Monastir.

“Returning to Africa almost at the end of my career and getting to play at the BAL has been unbelievable. I am also helping young guys to focus on their dreams, so it’s great thing and I have won two BAL titles. It’s been an amazing experience,” said Diabate.

Despite having bagged two BAL titles, the Ivorian described winning in the league’s debut season, where he averaged eight points, one rebound and three assists per game, as his most memorable.

“Honestly, it was winning with Zamalek. Everything in the team was perfect, and it was the first edition of the BAL. It was a history-making moment because we were the first team to win it. Besides winning the trophy, the team atmosphere was great. I have good memories of that time. Only good memories,” said Diabate, who joined the Angolan club Petro de Luanda last year.

Solo Diabate has won two BAL titles since returning to the African continent.

The ambitious Petro, who lost last year’s continental final, will count on Diabate, Carlos Morais, Joan Petro, Ater Majok and Childe Dundão to help them capture a maiden BAL title.

Diabate says expectations are high at Petro, who are in the Nile Conference, which tips off on April 26. The belief is that this is Petro’s year and who can doubt that given the team the Angolan club has put together?

“I think we have a good and balanced team of young and experienced players. Of course, I bring my experience and my game. It’s nice to be here at Petro, even if there is more pressure to win the BAL. It is Petro’s goal, and they want it, so there is pressure on all of us,” said Diabate.

One of the players who will help Petro in their quest towards winning a first BAL crown is centre Majok, a teammate of Diabate’s at title-winning Monastir last year.

Diabate is excited about Majok landing at Petro, and he feels the big man will give the team an added edge.

“I am happy that Majok has joined Petro. We had a good relationship from our time at Monastir. He is a good player and a good guy. His ability to block shots will deter opposing players in the paint. He can also pass, and he is a leader. We have a good team with balance. We now have to prove ourselves on the court,” said the Cote D’Ivoire player.


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Petro will have their title credentials tested against Nile Conference opponents Al Ahly (Egypt), Cape Town Tigers (South Africa), Ferroviario da Beira (Mozambique), City Oilers (Uganda) and Seydou Legacy Athletique Club (Guinea).

Diabate is familiar with Al Ahly from his time in Egypt and he is somewhat knowledgeable of the Tigers. The other teams are a closed book to him.

“I do not know much about some of the teams. I know Al Ahly is a solid team, and their coach won the first BAL with us at Zamalek. He is a smart coach, and I’m sure he has put together a great team,” said Diabate. “I also know players from the Cape Town team, especially Evans Ganapamo. What I am also sure of is that our group is going to be tough.

“The team from Mozambique look good. I do not think they are strong, but they are solid. So, we have to be careful, and no disrespect to the other conference but ours has the best teams.”

There is no question that Petro is loaded with talent, and they are championship material, but come the start of the Nile Conference, Diabate and his teammates have to prove they can swim against the coming tide.

* To see Nile Conference fixtures, click here

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