There are few things basketball in Uganda and Mali, hosts of the Group B 2019 World Cup first round qualifiers share in common.
But as the two countries clash in Bamako this evening they will each be seeking to make the most of the exposure the new World Cup qualifying format offers.
Victory for either nation today will go a long way in securing the three slots on offer in the four-team Group B that also includes Nigeria and Rwanda and hence more competitive basketball.
“The new qualification system will allow Mali to develop its basketball potential at all levels. In the past, our fans only saw us play every two years, now we have a huge chance of becoming a consistent team,” Mali forward Souarata Cisse explained.
The same could apply to Uganda’s national basketball team Silverbacks who are featuring in this competition for the first time and have also been short of competitive games.
“It is a great deal for Uganda. It’s an opportunity for Ugandans to see that the game is growing and we are grateful for their support. But it opens a window for all Ugandans out there to know that there is continuity at national team,” Joseph Ikong stated shortly after the team arrived in Bamako.
After a four-decade lull, the country returned at the 2015 Afrobasket Championship before sealing back to back appearances last year where they finished 13th, an improvement of two places at the 16-team competition.
Having played Nigeria on the opening night yesterday, the Silverbacks will wrap the action tomorrow against Rwanda.
Progression past this stage will see teams divided into two groups of the 12-team second round with the top winners and the best third placed team from qualifying for the 32-team FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
Qualifiers in Mali
Today: Uganda vs Mali
Tomorrow: Uganda vs Rwanda