AMSTERDAM (2012 FIBA U17 World Championship for Women) – Mali have not won any of their 10 games thus far at the 2010 or 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships for Women. But the sole African representative is using the exposure to the world game to help develop it back home.
Mali dropped to 0-3 in the second edition of the youth tournament in Amsterdam after their 76-61 loss against Korea, meaning the West African nation will likely again lose all seven of their games at this competition.
Still, that hasn’t kept Mali from proudly showing their green, yellow and red in the heart of Europe.
“We are really proud of wearing the Mali jersey. Our country is the best thing we have, so we are proud,” said Mali shooting guard Mariam Maiga.
Maiga had 11 points as Mali scored their most points in a U17 Worlds game – surpassing the 56 points they tallied in 2010 against Turkey. And the 15-point loss was the smallest margin of defeat they’ve had in their 10 games, besting the 26-point defeat (75-49) they suffered against Argentina two years ago.
Maiga, who doesn’t turn 16 until the end of September, has experienced all 10 of the defeats as she was 13 years old when Mali went 0-7 in the summer of 2010 at the U17 event in France.
“In 2010, I was the youngest player and I was not playing very much. But now I think we are all at the same level. And now I am proud that I am back here again and that I can show my skills because that was not the case in 2010,” said Maiga, who is Mali’s second-leading scorer with 8.4 points in nearly 27 minutes per game.
Maiga said this experience is not just a learning experience for her and her teammates.
“In Mali, the game is pretty slow. So coming here is very hard because the game is so much faster. I really think that what we see here regarding speed and practice that this is something we can bring back to Mali and help the teams improve and other players. We can show them how it is here,” she explained.
The fact that the playing conditions in Mali are still low has hindered in the chance of development for Maiga and the game in general.
“Her development has stagnated a little bit. She hasn’t progressed as much as maintained herself because the conditions under which they train and play in Mali are not very easy or practical. The girls don’t have much of a sporting life as such,” said Mali coach Oumarou Sidiya, who was also the coach for the African side in 2010.
“The whole team is very athletic. They have the desire and the will to get better. But the development of the game in the country is not really there so it’s something that hinders them.”
Sidiya said the efforts back home have been sufficient at the continental level but the world scene is another step higher.
“Everyone – the government and the federation – is trying to make efforts and those efforts allow us to compete and to win on an African level but it’s going to take more at the international level,” said Sidiya.
A victory at a tournament like the one in Amsterdam would be a huge help in those efforts.