In just two shorts years, Leia Dongue has gone from a promising talent for Mozambique to being the leading player of a team chasing a place at the London Olympics.
Earlier this month, Dongue was named Mozambican 2011 Most Valuable Player after leading her club, Liga Muçulmana, to the national championship title in the capital city, Maputo.
Liga Muçulmana, now the main provider of players for the women’s national team, dethroned powerhouse and eternal winner Desportivo de Maputo in a tournament that brought together the winners of national regions.
At 20 years of age, Leia – as she prefers to be called – has become not only an MVP, but Mozambique’s current biggest reference.
She was the leading rebounder at the 2011 FIBA Africa Championship for Women in Mali with 10.3 boards to go with her 14.6 points per contest. She registered four double-double in seven games.
Mozambique came in fifth and will play at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) for Women in the Turkish capital of Ankara from 25 June to 1 July. They will replace last year’s silver medallists Senegal who withdrew from the 12-team competition.
Last week, the Mozambicans were drawn in Group C of the OQT’s Preliminary Round with Korea and Croatia.
The top five teams – the four winners of the Quarter-Finals and the team that bounces back from its Last Eight defeat to win two games and finish fifth – in Ankara will progress to the London Olympics, joining hosts Great Britain, USA, Australia, Angola, Russia, China and Brazil.
Since she started her basketball career in 2005 at Desportivo de Maputo, the 1.88m tall Dongue has established herself as an Africa revelation.
She has represented Mozambique from an early age.
After playing for the U16 and U18 national teams, she made her senior debut at the 2009 FIBA Africa Championship and immediately became the team’s leading scorer.
In Ankara, Leia will need the support of more experienced players such as Deolinda Ngulela, Ana Azinheira and Clarisse Machanguana.
With the national championship season having come to an end, Mozambique’s preparations for the OQT are due to start in early May.
First, as the country’s national federation chairman Francisco Mabjaia confirmed to fiba.com, they will “need to appoint the head coach no later than early March.”
In the meantime, Leia can’t wait to get to Ankara and play.
“I have never played at an Olympic, but from what I see on TV it is something amazing, and that feeling motivates us,” she said.
“We have three months of preparations, focusing on improving some aspects of our game.
“We have quality within the squad to which we will add our hard work in order to do well internationally.”
Asked about Korea and Croatia, Leia told fiba.com: “Personally I do not know much about them, but I am researching on it now.
“Nowadays with the new technologies it is very practical to observe our opponents through information and data available on internet.
“Our philosophy is that hard work always pays off.
“I am not being big-headed. I am just saying what we are capable of. Again hard work may take us far,” she added.
“Playing this tournament came at the right time for us. Our federation made the right choice to accept the offer.”
Leia is a psychology university student who has spent the last few weeks dividing her time between revising and taking part in twice-daily practice sessions.
Like other Mozambican players, she too aims to play abroad: “Well, if there is an opportunity, no doubt that playing in more competitive championships increases a player’s potential, and I am no exception.”
Asked to describe her game style, Dongue explained: “My strong point is my rebounding ability, but I am also able to score and defend disciplinarily.
“My weak point is that a player of my age is usually still learning, and I am happy that I can improve much.”