#FIBAOQT: Senegal aim to make some noise in Manila

Ibrahim Thomas is expected to play a big role for Senegal this year.
(image from FIBA)

*This first appeared on FIBA.com.

Senegal power forward Ibrahima Thomas wasn't even born when his country last played in the Olympics in 1980, but he believes they can reach the Rio de Janeiro Olympics via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Manila.

The tournament in the Philippines' capital will run from 5-10 July, where the Western Africans will take on Turkey and Canada in Group A. To advance to the next round, they will need to finish in the top two of their group. Then they would face one of the top two teams from Group B which consists of France, New Zealand and the Philippines. The winners of the two Semi-Finals will then play each other with Olympic qualification at stake.

Thomas, a 28-year-old who has become a key member of the Senegalese national team in recent years, admits that both Group Phase opponents are tough, but believes they can be one of the two teams competing for the only place on offer for the Rio Games.

It’s a good group with tough teams to play against. But if we approach the tournament the way we did at the world cup, we have a chance to qualify, I have no doubts about it. - Thomas
The 2.12m forward said to FIBA.com: "I can say that I know those teams reasonably well. I have played with Tristan Thompson (Canada) and Enes Kanter (Turkey) in the Las Vegas Summer League, and I know how good they are."

In 2014, Senegal were considered outsiders in Group C at the FIBA Basketball World Cup Group C. Taking on high ranked teams Argentina, Croatia, Greece, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in Seville seemed quite a challenge for them. Against the odds though, the Senegalese beat Puerto Rico before stunning favourites Croatia to get out of the Group Phase. They returned home with a 2-4 after losing to tournament host Spain in the Eight-Finals. 

It's an accomplishment that Thomas insists should inspire them moving to the OQT.

Senegal are 31st in the FIBA World Ranking Men, well below their Manila OQT Group A opponents Canada (26th) and Turkey (8th). Yet Thomas - who recently joined Caceres Patrimonio de la Humanidad in Spain's second tied LEB league - doesn't seem too concerned about the rankings.

“We can play at a high level for sure. We shocked the world by beating Croatia - in my opinion one of the best teams in the world - and we can do it again in the Philippines. We are at the same level as any other teams in our group. If we play our best we can go there and compete to qualify.” - Thomas

"No matter what sport - soccer, track and field or basketball - the Olympics are the biggest event that an athlete can attend," said the 29-year-old. "I would do everything to be in Rio, but that depends on the federation’s schedule. Right now I am just focused to help my team. They [Caceres] invited me here to help, and that’s what I am focused on."

Thomas also points to the presence of one particular player as being crucial to the team's chances.

"Hammady Ndiaye could make a difference for us. He didn't play at AfroBasket 2015 and we felt the difference playing without him," he said. "If he comes to the Pre-Olympic in Manila he can make a big difference with his rebounding and competitiveness. With him we will be good. He can give us a big lift.”

"The players' availability will depend on the schedule of the federation. So far, I don't know what’s going to happen."

Over the years, Senegal have been tipped as potential winners of AfroBasket. But the continental title has eluded them since they won Africa's flagship event in 1997, when they hosted the competition.

At last summer's event in Rades, Tunisia, the Senegalese could have secured automatic qualification for Rio but an 88-79 Semi-Final overtime defeat to eventual champions Nigeria meant Thomas and his team-mates were headed to the OQTs instead.

In that Semi-Final, Thomas hit 3 of his 6 three-point attempts en route to an 11-point contribution, but the Nigerians proved too strong, outscoring Senegal 12-3 in the extra period.

After opening the tournament with five wins in a row, Senegal claimed a fourth-place finish. 

"We had a good shot to win the championship. We had a possession with 20 seconds left and we could have executed a decent shot, but we made mistakes that cost us the title. We just have to blame ourselves, that's it," Thomas conceded.

Senegal will open their campaign at the Manila OQT against Canada on Wednesday 6 July.




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