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Ballo ready to accomplish what previous Mali generation couldn’t – win U19 World Cup games

BAMAKO () – heads into the Basketball World Cup 2019 looking to accomplish something the previous Mali generation could not – win a game at the global level.

Ballo helped Mali clinch their first-ever title at the FIBA U18 African Championship last summer at home, booking their third ticket to the U19 World Cup and second straight. But the western Africans failed to capture a victory at the previous edition in Cairo two years ago.

“Every generation is different. We are going to accomplish what our brothers didn’t in the last few years,” said Ballo, referring to an 0-7 record and 16th place showing in 2017 and a 1-4 mark and 15th place finish in 2007. “We know our goal and the most important thing is we trust each other and support each other every single day.”

“WE HAVE BEEN PREPARING FOR THIS FOR A LONG TIME NOW. SO WE ARE READY TO FACE WHOEVER IN THIS TOURNAMENT.” Oumar Ballo


The 6ft9in (2.05m) big man insists that Mali are not taking for granted that they are making back-to-back appearances at the U19 global spectacle.

“We take this very serious. We are lucky to have this chance. So we are going for it,” Ballo said. “We are working on progressing and letting the success make noise. We know what we want and we are going for it.”

Ballo is becoming no stranger to success. In addition to helping Mali win the U18 African crown, Ballo, who turns 17 years old on July 13, also was named to the All-Star Five as Mali claimed the title at the FIBA U16 African Championship 2017 – the country’s first trophy at that age group which gave them back-to-back appearances at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup.

Oumar Ballo (right) earned a spot on the All-Star Five of the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018

Ballo also shined at the U17 World Cup last summer in Argentina, averaging 20.6 points, 16.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.3 blocks to earn a spot in the All-Star Five despite being a year younger than the competition. Ballo set a U17 World Cup record in the Classification 9-12 game against Dominican Republic with 32 rebounds – 10 more than the previous record. He also scored 32 points in the triple-overtime 110-108 loss to the Dominican Republic.

“I learned a lot from that game, especially playing three overtimes. It was a tough game and probably the best game in the event. So I’m really proud to hold this record and I’m ready to set another record – just not individual only, but as a team first,” Ballo said.

Mali lost to the Dominicans and eventually dropped to hosts Argentina 70-69 to finish 12th in the competition. But the African champions did beat China and Philippines besides giving scares to giants Serbia and Australia.


“I had a great experience last summer in Argentina with the U17 team. I learned a lot playing against the best players from all around the world. It helped me a lot, not only on the court but also off the court: as a leader, how to push your team in the good and bad moments,” Ballo said.

 

Ballo will not be the only Mali player who learned what it takes to win at the global stage last summer and can use that experience in Greece. Siriman Kanoute, Mohamed Keita and Mohamed Sidibe were also on the U17 team in Argentina.


But Mali will not have it easy in Greece as they are drawn into Group B with Australia, Canada and Latvia with Lithuania, New Zealand, Senegal or the United States waiting in the Round of 16.

“This is a really tough group, there is not an easy game in it. But we have been preparing for this for a long time now. So we are ready to face whoever in this tournament,” Ballo said.


There might be a familiar face standing opposite Ballo in the tournament. The Mali big man has committed to Gonzaga University for next season and among his future collegiate teammates are Martynas Arlauskas with Lithuania, Joel Ayayi of France and Serbian big man Filip Petrusev.

“We all are happy to represent our countries. It’s gonna be a great experience for all of us. Those guys are my brothers and I’m really sure every single one of us will represent our countries very well and proudly. That’s the Zags way,” Ballo said.

But the Gonzaga brotherhood will have to wait – for Ballo, it’s about doing what his previous Malian brothers could not really do – win games at the U19 World Cup.

FIBA

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