Can the Blue Sharks make history?
In February, the national team of Cape Verde qualified for the Basketball World Cup; a first for the island nation with a population of just over 500mm.
To earn their invitation, the Cabo Verdians competed in AfroBasket, hosted by the Rwandan Federation, and made it to the semifinals of the competition, finishing with a 6-4 record, good enough to secure a spot in the field of 32 for this year’s tournament hosted by the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.
So, as the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup, can 64th-ranked Cape Verde actually make noise in the competition?
If team captain, this year’s Euroleague winner, finals MVP, and starting center for Real Madrid, Edy Tavares can continue his stellar play, then absolutely, the Blue Sharks have a legitimate chance to win games in their group, and advance.
In Europe, Tavares, who is one of the top players in the Euroleague, and is the best at his position with a 7’3 frame and wingspan of 7-9¸ was featured in 19.5% of Los Blanco’s plays this past season, 6th highest usage rate on the team, while serving as the defensive anchor for Real Madrid.
For Cape Verde, his presence was essential in the World Cup Qualifiers, playing in 7 of 10 games, averaging 14.4 Pts, 11.6 Rebs, and 2.3 Blks.
In the World Cup, Tavares will assume even greater responsibilities on both sides of the ball, competing on a team with just two other starters playing professionally in Europe, Ivan Almeida of Benfica in Portugal, and Jeff Xavier of UJAP Quimper 29 in France, who is actually the former Gatorade Player of the Year in Rhode Island, and a graduate of Providence College.
As the last 8th seed in the tournament, Cape Verde will compete in a group featuring Slovenia, currently 7th in FIBA’s world rankings, led by Luka Doncic, a former teammate of Tavares in Madrid.
Prior to the marquee matchup against the group’s top seed, Cape Verde will take on Venezuela, ranked 17th, and Georgia, 32nd who feature top talent from Europe and the NBA, including Tornike Shengalia (Virtus Bologna), Goga Bitadze (Orlando Magic) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (San Antonio Spurs).
In order to advance into the knockout round, the Africans need to secure points early in the group stage and will look to their All-Euroleague center to facilitate.
Qualifying for the World Cup for the 1st time is already an amazing achievement for Cape Verde.
If the Blue Sharks can earn points in either of their first two games against Venezuela or Georgia, the showdown against Slovenia (who will most likely win the group), has the potential to be an incredible moment in this historical run for the Cabo Verdians, and despite being underdogs, they have momentum, and they have Tavares.