“I want to play with Ivory Coast”

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For his fifth professional season, Mohamed Bamba is making a name for himself in the NBA, with the Florida team of the Orlando Magic. Born in Harlem to parents from Abidjan, the Ivorian American basketball player is very attached to the land of his ancestors and wants to invest more and more in the country of Elephants. But he also aims to join the national team that qualified for the 2023 World Cup this summer, among other things.

RFI: Mohamed Bamba, you made your first visit to Ivory Coast last summer. How did you have this first experience on your parents’ land?

Mohammed Bamba : I’ve wanted to go there for a long time, but between the Covid pandemic and commitments to my American career, I finally got to go only this summer. I am not going to hide from you that I was very relieved to go to Côte d’Ivoire, I had long felt the call of the country, of my origin. I was able to meet family members, spend time with people in my parents’ neighborhood, while also inaugurating basketball courts named after my late brother and helping out at an orphanage. I want to invest for the long term, I want to be involved in helping the youth of Ivory Coast, it is something that is very close to my heart. I have a few projects in mind and it also gave me an opportunity to see what I could put in place for the future. A part of me is there, it comes from there, and I am very attached to this country. I love Abidjan, it’s a great city.

Ivory Coast is a football crazy country. How did you feel about the focus on basketball while you were there?

I also find the fascination with basketball in Ivory Coast very interesting and I felt that the sport is becoming more and more important with the exemplary rise of the national team, but also the involvement of young people in American culture, and Africans in the NBA like myself, Joël Embiid, Pascal Siakam and others. We are the models, the ambassadors of the continent in the United States, and this creates imitations in all countries, and basketball is really starting to take on a nice popular dimension in Côte d’Ivoire. I felt a lot of love for the orange ball, which is really promising for the present, but also for the future, because during my stay I saw many young people full of talent with the ball in hand.

You also went to watch one of the Elephants’ matches against Nigeria in a packed house…

Yes, it was a great experience and the boys played a great game beating a formidable team from Nigeria. The fans were in full swing, they played the sixth man perfectly, they were very happy to win and I got a great reception, it warmed my heart, that’s for sure (to smile). We have a really great team and their journey through the qualifiers for the next World Cup is a huge success as the lads have already confirmed their tickets for the 2023 World Cup. basketball also inspire the youth of the country.

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Being in Côte d’Ivoire was another step in the discussions with the Federation to advance the process of integration into the national team. Can you tell us more about it?

Yes, we have been discussing with the Federation about my integration into the national team for some time, and the discussions are going very well, things are going well. I want to play with the Elephants. We are working on several files and doing everything possible so that someday I can play with an Ivory jersey on my shoulders. In the early years of my career in the NBA, I was very busy settling into this league, and now I am working to represent the Ivory Coast at the highest level and offer my contribution to the Elephants. It would be a great thing to wear the orange shirt, represent the country and make my countrymen proud, and I’m doing my best to do it as soon as possible. You have to be patient, that’s the key, but to wear the national team is one of my career goals, that’s for sure. I want to participate as soon and as long as possible.

Could your first steps at the next World Cup be in the summer of 2023?

It’s a very interesting goal, I’m very tempted and we’re trying to put all the elements in our favor to see if it’s possible for me to be there for the next World Cup. It would be great to play at the highest level in FIBA, in a competitive arena like the World Cup, but we are still a long way from that. We are trying to put everything in place on our part so that I can wear the national jersey soon and hopefully that day will come soon enough. There’s still a lot of time left in this tournament and almost a full season ahead of me, but I’m sure I’d like to qualify for the next international if possible.

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