By Olalekan Okusan
Even before facing Nigeria at the 2021 FIBA Afrobasket Championship in Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire’s Souleyman Diabate has admitted that the quality of Nigeria’s D’Tigers stands them out among others in Africa.
33-year-old Ivorian point guard took Kigali by a storm helping Egypt giants Zamalek beat Tunisian champions US Monastir to clinch the first-ever Basketball Africa League (BAL) trophy.
The 1.85m (6ft 1in) guard sank in three of his six three-point attempts en route to a 14-point performance off the bench as the historic Egyptian club closed their BAL campaign undefeated in six games. Diabate averaged 10.4 points and 4.6 assists in five games.
Cote d’Ivoire are two-time winners of the AfroBasket in the 1980s and they have been drawn in Group C alongside Africa No.1 team Nigeria, Mali and Kenya and Diabate envisioned for a team vying to make history.
The Ivorians trail Nigeria 1-3 over their last four meetings dating back to the 2017 AfroBasket, but it’s the ‘Elephants’ win against the D’Tigers in the second round of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup African Qualifiers that gives Diabate hope and confidence.
“For me, Nigeria is the best team in Africa. Even if they have won only one AfroBasket . It’s difficult to play against them because they have so many good players who can make a difference at any given moment in the game, but, at the same time, it’s easy to play them because there’s so much ego on that team.”