Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE senior men’s basketball team qualified for their maiden Afro-Basketball Championships on Saturday at Bulawayo’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair after beating South Africa 64-62 in the last qualifying match.The hosts needed overtime to secure their ticket to the Afro-Basketball Championships which will be held in Tunisia later this year after the game had ended 55-55 in regulation time.
Having lost the first leg 60-64 to South Africa, Zimbabwe needed a victory. Backed by their vociferous fans at the ZITF Hall Three, the home team never disappointed, posting a 64-62 scoreline.
Zimbabwe joins defending champions Angola for the men’s championships set for Tunisia which will run from September 19-28. Angola who won all their six qualifying matches will represent the region at the All-Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville from September 4-19.
Despite seeing his charges fail to secure the All-Africa Games ticket, an ecstatic Zimbabwean coach Chewy Gilbert was full of praise for his charges who put a spirited performance in the extra five minutes on Saturday which eventually gave them maximum points they desperately needed.
Gilbert said they have to work harder and improve on their shortcomings before leaving for Tunisia later this year.
“It’s been a fantastic week for us and we’re happy to have done the nation proud by qualifying for the Afro-Basketball Championships. We’re happy to be the country’s first group to make it to the continental tournament and we want to thank our home supporters who rallied behind the team throughout the qualifiers,” said Gilbert.
“Our boys showed character and gave a disciplined performance against an equally good South African side. Now that we’re through to the Afro-Basketball Championships, we will go back to the drawing board and work on our mistakes.”
Without United States of America based Jullian Mavhunga and Vitalis Chikoko who is plying his services in Germany, Zimbabwe’s only foreign based player who participated at the week-long joint qualifiers for the Afro-Basketball Championships and All-Africa Games was Sternard Mapurisa who plays in Cape Town, South Africa.
Taurai Chitsinde, the Zimbabwe men’s team skipper heaped praise on his teammates and said hard work saw them through.
“We knew that Angola, being regional basketball giants, were going to be difficult to beat and our fate to the Afro-Basketball Championships lay in our hands. Even when we got to a false start losing to South Africa and Angola, we never threw in the towel as we remained focused on turning the tables in the second leg which we did. I must say teamwork was key to us qualifying and we shall cherish this moment for the rest of our lives,” said Chitsinde.
“Now that we will be competing with the best African teams later this year, I believe it’s high time we raised our game and work hard so that we don’t go to Tunisia to make up numbers but to effectively compete. We’re capable of doing just that.”
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe women’s team failed to qualify for both the Afro-basketball Championships set for Cameroon and the Congo-Brazzaville All Africa Games after losing 47-52 to South Africa.
Zimbabwe women who were at the last All-Africa Games and Afro-Basketball Championships held in Mozambique in 2011 and 2013 respectively needed to beat South Africa by at least seven basket points.