ZIMBABWE national basketball team coach Innocent Sithole is confident that his team’s improved match fitness will give them a good chance when they battle it out for the remaining ticket to the Africa Basketball Championship (AfroBasket) finals set for September in Angola.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The national side will have one last chance to make their second successive appearance at the Afrobasket finals when they take on Chad, Cape Verde and Central Africa Republic in the final qualifying competition, which will be held in Bamako, Mali, between Friday and Sunday.
Zimbabwe missed out on the automatic ticket for the AfroBasket finals to Mozambique in March before yet again coming short to neighbours South Africa in a regional two-game play-off qualifier held in Johannesburg last month.
Sithole was assistant coach to Emmanuel Mukandi when Zimbabwe lost the two-match series to South Africa on points difference after going down 67-74 in the first match before registering a narrow 70-68 in the second match.
Zimbabwe were guilty of failing to close out the match in both encounters as they blew a 20-point lead in the first match and Mukandi, who stepped down after the disappointing loss, admitted that his charges had failed to manage the game.
While his predecessor Mukandi attributed the defeat to South Africa on poor preparations and lack of match fitness, Sithole said they were better prepared for the Mali tournament.
“Our chances of qualifying this time around are very good and we’re going there with the aim of winning the qualifying tournament. In terms of preparations, I think we are in a better position than we were last month,” Sithole told NewsDay Sport yesterday.
“Fitness was an issue when we played South Africa and we’ve tried to work on it as much as we can and I think we have improved. The team has been training at the University of Zimbabwe court twice a day ahead of their departure for the tournament.
“The other area that we needed to work on was finishing of games and sticking to the game plan and I think we’ve covered some bit of ground and the boys are raring to go.”
The Zimbabwe side is expected to leave the country today for the final qualifying competition, where the winner replace the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Securing a spot in the upcoming biennial African competition would also give Zimbabwe an automatic spot in the 2019 Fiba World Cup qualifiers which begin in November.
Zimbabwe will, however, be without France-based star Vitalis Chikoko, who is only expected to return to action at the end of this month after suffering a serious foot injury while in action for his club Élan Béarnais Pau-Orthez last month.
Taurai Chitsinde (captain), Tawanda Chitsinde, Simbarashe Mungomezi, Neville Chivhanganye, Tatenda Maturure, Warren Tegama, Nathan Warikandwa, Noah Penduka, Shonhiwa Ushe, Dumisani Moyo, Tinotenda Mugabe, Everisto Pasipamire.