SAO VICENTE (Afrobasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) – Cape Verde forward Rodrigo Mascarenhas is delaying his retirement from the national team until after the 2013 Afrobasket.
For months, even after the islanders stunned Mali last August, Mascarenhas remained secretive about his future with the 2007 Afrobasket bronze medallists.
But if they secure one of the three African places for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the 32-year-old might reconsider his decision.
Since he first played for Cape Verde five years ago, Mascarenhas has often made public his full availability to the national team in order to see basketball grow in the country.
“I hope to help Cape Verde immensely in the Afrobasket, and hopefully we will stun big African teams,” he told FIBA.com.
Cape Verde will go to the Ivory Coast, the site of this year’s continental championship, as underdogs.
But in the words of Mascarenhas, the team’s captain, they have sufficient quality to repeat their 2007 Afrobasket third place, which ranks as a remarkable moment in the country’s basketball history.
Meanwhile, the islanders are going to need their best players to come together.
Although neither scoring-machine Jeff Xavier – the 2009 Afrobasket leading scorer – nor Pedro Cipriano played in last summer’s qualifier tournament, Mascarenhas says they are the kind of players who can boost the team’s chances.
He also had good news: “I have recently met with members of the National Federation and they are planning one month preparation in the USA, and home tournament before we travel to Abidjan.”
Along with Mario Correia and Marques Houtman, Mascarenhas is one of the most regular players on the national team.
He is not currently linked to any professional club, but he is keeping his fitness with his childhood club of Cruzeiros in São Vicente Island.
Cape Verde is a football-crazy nation, especially as their national team caused one of the biggest upsets in continent football history after denying highly-regarded Cameroon to play at this month’s African Cup of Nations in South Africa.
Mascarenhas says basketball is undoubtedly the number two sport in the country.
“The [basketball] national team’s recent performances and involvement and the growing number of Cape Verdean players abroad, have attracted a lot of people to the games,” he explained.
“But the national championship registers even bigger attendances, which is good for the game.”
The national championship takes place in a pre-selected city between May and June, after the regional tournaments.
During the qualifier, last August, brothers Joel and Ivan Almeida had extremely good showings.
But Alex Nwora’s men may count with 2.20m young center, Walter Da Veiga, commonly known as ‘Edy’.
The 20-year-old, whose contractual rights belong to Herbalife Gran Canaria in Spain’s Liga Endesa, made his international debut five months ago and he is a player to take in consideration.
‘Edy’ is having a modest season with Gran Canaria 2014 of Adecco Plata, a third-tier league, but Mascarenhas who visited him recently says he has a bright future.
“For a kid who started playing organised basketball three years ago, I think he is doing really well. Besides that he is a very clever young man,” he said.
“I could recently witness how determined he is to improve his game.”
World stage competition
Cape Verde battled at the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT), but lost both games in the preliminary round to Germany and New Zealand.
When the 2014 FIBA World Cup tips off in Spain, Mascarenhas says the world will no longer disregard African nations, especially after Cameroon, Nigeria and Angola gave hard work to their opponents in the latest two OQTs.
“These kind of tournaments give minnow teams extra motivation,” he said.
As for the upcoming Afrobasket, Mascarenhas – who is known for his rebounding ability – says team play will make a big difference.
“Nowadays, especially in Afrobasket, collectivism wins championships,” he pointed out.
“Look at Tunisia [the 2011 Afrobasket champions] they don’t have an outstanding player.
“Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Angola and Senegal are strong opponents. If Cameroon prepares adequately they are a team to take in consideration too.”
Cape Verde missed out on qualification the 2011 Afrobasket.
They had a disappointing 2009 tournament, but the Mascarenhas is optimistic for the future of the game in the archipelago, where basketball has become more and more popular in the recent years.
Cape Verde is coached by Nigerian-born Alex Nwora who took over in 2009.
He currently coaches Erie Community College Kats in division II of the USA’s National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).