Cape Verde

Can African teams rise on the global stage?

JAPAN, Indonesia and the Philippines are the centres of basketball worldwide. All three nations have partnered to co-host the game’s biggest showpiece, the FIBA World Cup (25 August – 10 September).

The Big Tip Off previews the prospects of African teams, Angola, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt and South Sudan at the tournament. 

Angola

Angola are the most successful team at the continental level, with 11 AfroBasket titles and are appearing at their ninth World Cup. A country that has produced the golden generation of Joaquim Gomes, Eduardo Mingas, Olimpio Cipriano, and Carlos Morais. Now the baton has been passed on.

A new era of players has come through the ranks and have much to live up to. Players like Bruno Fernando, Gerson Lukeny, Childe Dundao and Dimitri Maconda have been the flag bearers for the Southern African nation.  

They will be in a tough Group A with the Dominican Republic led by Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl Anthony Towns. Host nation, the Philipines, who have NBA 2022 sixth man of the year Jordan Clarkson (Utah Jazz) and Italy, who have had success at the international level, complete the group. 

Angola will have memories of Italy and the Philippines, their group opponents from the 2019 World Cup. And they will hope to improve on their 1-2 record from that tournament. 

Gerson Goncalves in action for Angola
Gerson Goncalves has been instrumental in leading Angola’s new generation. Picture: The BTO

Their Achilles heel at big tournaments has always been their lack of height, which could impact their chances of progress at this World Cup.

This new generation of Angolan players will want prove they are ready take the mantle of the old guard. 

Cape Verde

Cape Verde, who surprised the world, are the smallest nation to compete at the FIBA World Cup, but they will no doubt try to make giant strides.

Despite being new to this level of competition, Cape Verde, 2021 AfroBasket semi-finalists, have experienced players in their ranks.

Players like Walter Tavares, Betinho Gomes, brother Joel and Ivan Almeida have international experience at the club level.

Walter Tavares warming up for Cape Verde
Walter Tavares was a key factor Cape Verde’s qualification for the FIBA World Cup. Picture: The BTO

Their (Cape Verde) Group F also has World Cup debutants Georgia and two countries who are no strangers to this stage in Slovakia and Venezuela. The Cape Verdeans will open against Georgian team with EuroBasket experience and will feel they have nothing to lose.   

It will not be an easy ride against their experienced opponents, but Cape Verde, could have the element of surprise on their side.

Cote d’Ivoire

After a forgettable 2019 tournament, where they failed to win a game, the Elephants are looking to exorcise the demons. 

The West Africans will lean on the experience of veterans Solo Diabate, a two-time Basketball Africa League winner, and Charles Abouo. The duo are making their third appearance at the World Cup.

Cote d’Ivoire, who are making their fifth appearance, have to fight tooth and nail to get out of Group G. Against world champions Spain, boasting the likes of Juancho and Wily Hernangomez, the Ivorians will give their all.

Charles Abouo in action for Cote D'Ivoire
Charles Abouo will play in his third FIBA World Cup for Cote D’Ivoire.

Iran is the next fixture, and the two-time African champions might feel they are at par against the Asian nation.

South American juggernaut Brazil will pack just as good a punch as Spain. 

Of all the African teams, Cote d’Ivoire are in the hardest group. They will need to dig within themselves to have a fighting chance.

Egypt

The Pharaohs are making a return to the tournament after a nine-year absence. They have not had much international success and will use this World Cup to try re-establish Egypt as a force in the game.

For this World Cup, five-time African champions Egypt have assembled one of the most talented teams. From the scoring ability of Ehab Amin to the shot-blocking and rebounding prowess of centre Anas Mahmoud, the North Africans have a balanced team. 

Anas Mahmoud will step up for Egypt at the FIBA World Cup
Big man Anas Mahmoud will provide shot blocking and rebounding for Egypt. Picture FIBA

Players like Omar Araby, Patrick Gardner, Amr El Gendy and Omar Hussein will give the Egyptians positional depth. 

Egypt are in Group D with Mexico, Montenegro and European giants Lithuania.

The Pharaohs have a tough opener against Lithuania. Against Montenegro and Mexico, they (Egypt) will fancy their chances to come out of the group.

South Sudan

The South Sudanese were the continent’s best team during the World Cup qualifiers with an 11-1 record. Their record on the road to Asia speaks to their leap since becoming internationally recognised by FIBA in 2013.

On their debut international tournament, the 2021 AfroBasket, The Bright Stars finished in the quarter-finals. Their well-earned trip to the World Cup is a testament to the quality of the team. 

In Basketball Africa League champion and MVP Nuni Omot, South Sudan have a two-way threat. His ability to defend and score is a plus for the World Cup debutants. 

 

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Kuany Kuany, Wenyen Gabriel, and Carlik Jones will give the South Sudanese more scoring and defensive options. 

South Sudan will be in an interesting Group B, alongside Serbia, China and Puerto Rico. 

South Sudan does have the talent at their disposal to face the best in the world. Their opening game against Puerto Rico and their close-out game versus Serbia will test their level of competitiveness. 

 

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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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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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Barros hopes AfroBasket can unlock new doors

Cape Verde to put on a show for their fans

PLAYING on the big stage in sport can open new doors for competing athletes. Cape Verde point guard Alexia Barros harbours the hope that a good performance at the women’s AfroBasket will be the key to unlocking new opportunities for herself.

The 26-year-old hopes playing the lights out in the tournament which Cameroon will host (from 17-26 September) will help her achieve her dream of playing in the WNBA.

Another added advantage for the United States-born Barros is that she recently joined the New England Trailblazers, a team that competes in the Women’s American Basketball Association (WABA). Both situations give the 5ft8 guard an advantage in her quest to fulfil her ambition of playing in the elite women’s league.

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Lexi Barros believes Cape Verde can do big things at this year’s AfroBasket. Pictures: FIBA

The floor general believes she is within touching distance of achieving her goal and is hopeful that the work she has put in will yield a positive outcome.

“My dream is to play in the WNBA. I feel I am close to getting to my dream. I have to keep working hard. Work on the little things that will help my game progress,” said the former Community College of Rhode Island player.

She also relishes playing for club and country. “It’s fulfilling to play for both teams. I can’t wait to see what playing for them will do for my basketball career. The doors it can open and the new people I am going to meet. I am excited at the prospect of seeing new opportunities come alive. It feels good. I feel like something is coming.”

With the groundwork laid to work towards her aspirations, the AfroBasket tournament looms for Barros and Cape Verde.

A look-back to their route to qualifying for the women’s tournament, a stand-out feature is that the islanders had to overcome difficult odds against Guinea, Conakry in a two-legged Fiba Africa Zone 2 qualifier in June.

Both legs took place in Conakry at the Stade 28 Septembre indoor venue, in front of a raucous and passionate home crowd. Cape Verde fought courageously but lost a close first leg by a single digit (65-64). A day later, Barros and her teammates took the battle to Guinea and valiantly triumphed by a 9-point margin (68-59) to qualify for the continental showpiece.

Reflecting on the qualifiers, Barros says playing as a unit against their much taller opponents led to Cape Verde securing their ticket to Cameroon.

“That experience was marvellous, especially playing there. Guinea was a tough team and a lot bigger than us, but we managed to hold our own. We did not have our fans. We had to rely on each other and stay together. I am proud of my teammates and what we achieved,” said Barros. “Their fans were a little wild. It was a small gym, and when they scored, you heard it. There was a lot of banging and loud horns. From an objective perspective, it was a beautiful atmosphere.

“We wanted to win and show the world that we are here. What we now need is support, and we also need to keep working hard, especially for this next tournament.”

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On the subject of support, Barros, who will participate in her second AfroBasket, hopes the national federation can equally support the women’s team as they do the men. Barros believes she and her teammates are keeping their end by preparing themselves for the upcoming tournament.

“We have some players in the States and most of our players in Cape Verde, and we need to come together to build the team chemistry,” said Barros. “We work our butts off, everyone from the coach, assistants, even the people in the federation help us a lot, but it’s little things that we need.

The same treatment and profile that the boys get should also be accorded to us as well. It’s starting to change a little bit, but it can be better.”

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Lexi Barros says playing for Cape Verde has helped her personal growth.

On Cape Verde’s chances at the 12-team tournament, Barros spoke with confidence that they can outduel any opponent. She also emphasised the need for teamwork if they are to make an impression in Cameroon.

“We need to play together. I feel we can beat any team. We have a lot of good shooters. We are a guard-heavy team and rely a lot on our speed for fastbreaks. There is a lot of experience in our group and some new players as well,” said Barros. “We want to do big things this year. We want to put on a show for our fans.”

Barros also appreciates donning the Cape Verde vest, what it has done to advance her basketball career, and is using her platform as an international player to be an example for the younger generation.

“I want to go far with this team. I want to play for as many years as possible. Playing for Cape Verde has been the most amazing thing in my life,” said Barros. “The fans there really support us, and the kids look up to us.

“That’s the one thing I like the most, having the chance to be a role model here at home in the US and in Cape Verde.”

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Cape Verde prepared for dog-fight in tough group

“We are focused. We have prepared well”

JOEL Almeida’s transition to basketball came as a way of him trying something new. Like most youngsters on the African continent, Cape Verde-born Almeida started out playing football, but the basketball bug bit in his mid-teens and he never looked back.

Since then, Almeida’s career has seen him traverse different parts of the world. Beginning with the college system in the United States of America. The 35-year old would later play in his country of birth, Angola, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and now Georgia, where he plays for BC Kutaisi.

“I started playing football. I switched to basketball when I was 15. I moved to the States for junior college and later college. I then made the move to Europe to play professionally and I have been there since 2009,” said Almeida, who elaborated on his change to basketball. “I wanted to try new things. Football is the main sport in Cape Verde. But, when I was growing up, I tried many sports as well. My friends convinced me to try basketball. They saw my height and were sure I would be good at it. I tried and eventually fell in love with it.”

 

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Having played in the parts of the world that he has, the shooting guard is well versed in different basketball cultures, which matured him as a player.

Playing in the US and Europe, you learn that the approach to the game is different. Adapting to different styles helps you grow as a player. It gives you more experience and a different outlook. When you encounter certain situations on the court, you will know how to adjust,” said Almeida, who played for Mowhawk Valley Community College in America.

Almeida’s approach and experience will come in handy for Cape Verde. The island nation, begin the final leg of the Afrobasket qualifiers in Monastir, Tunisia today.

Holding a 1-2 record from the opening window in Rwanda last year, Cape Verde have to show a marked improvement when they tip-off against Morocco in group E. The Cape Verdeans hold the psychological edge over the Moroccans, having beaten them last year. Their two defeats in the group, came at the hands of Egypt and Uganda.

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With the absence of Ivan Almeida, this presents an opportunity for other Cape Verde players to step up. Pictures: FIBA

“We are focused. We have prepared well. Right now, we aim to take it one game at a time. So we will do our best to come out with a victory,” said Almeida. “This group is a tough one. The teams are good and balanced. You can see the results from last year’s opening window. There were no blow-outs. All the games were close, with small point differentials.”

Giving his assessment of the teams in Cape Verde’s group, Almeida says it will be an all out battle to secure spots for the AfroBasket in Rwanda (24 August -5 September).
“Morocco has competed in continental competitions for many years. They have brought in some new players for this window. They are younger and inexperienced at this level. Egypt are a powerhouse. They have great players and are a balanced team. They also have experience on their side and are also well-coached. Uganda are up and coming. They have great talent, also well-coached and are a united team. So, it’s a tough group. Every game is going to be a dog-fight,” said the former Brockport State player.

On Cape Verde’s chances of securing their ticket to the continental showpiece, Almeida believes the key is motivation.

“We are motivated to get to Rwanda. We want to be on the biggest stage of African basketball competition. This window presents us with that chance. It’s now or never,” said Almeida. “Qualifying for the AfroBasket would mean a lot to the country and our people. We want to make them proud. We want to be there. We are willing to do what it takes to get there.”

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Joel Almeida says the team are motivated and ready achieve their goal.

To achieve this ambition, Almeida, one of the statistical leaders for Cape Verde, will have to be at the top of his game. His record from the opening window reads as follows: 12.3 points per game; 5.3 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists. While Cape Verde will rely on Almeida being at his peak, the veteran player says there are other intangibles required to get the job done.

“It’s about doing whatever the team needs you to do, whether it is scoring, rebounding or passing. You do whatever it takes to help the team win. There won’t always be good days. When it’s not a good day, you have to find other ways to contribute to the team effort,” said Almeida.

One player, who has not made the trip to Tunisia, due to injury is Almeida’s younger brother Ivan. The younger Almeida leads the team in scoring (21 points per game) and rebounding (10 points per game). While Ivan’s production on the court will be missed, Joel believes it’s an opportunity for other players to step up.

“We are going to miss him. He leads us in a lot of statistical categories. He can play multiple positions. He is our leader offensively and defensively. But we are ready. It’s next man up. Now everybody needs to chip in a little extra, for us to achieve our goal,” said Almeida.

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