Tunisia may have missed out on the podium at the FIBA Africa U18 Championship for Women in Senegal but there were plenty of positives to draw from the event for coach Gharbi Walid.
The Tunisians came in fourth after a 45-44 overtime defeat to Egypt in the Bronze Medal Game, but some of the youngsters showed a lot of promise and some can expect to make the senior team for the Afrobasket Women 2013.
Walid is also the coach of the senior team and among the emerging talents is 18-year-old Hamrouni Houda, the leading scorer (17.5 points) and rebounder (9.5 rebounds) at the U18 African Championship for Women.
Walid gave this interview to FIBA.com.
FIBA.com: What were your impressions of the U18 Afrobasket Women in Senegal?
Walid: I took over six months ago and I must recognize that my predecessor did a good job. In the meantime, our best center got injured two weeks before the tournament and I was obliged to change my entire philosophy. The level of this tournament is not so bad, with three groups: first the teams that played the Semi-Finals, followed by Angola, then Kenya.
FIBA.com: Can you talk about the four U18 players that are now with Tunisia’s women’s team?
Walid: I will take four players to the women’s senior team (to compete at Afrobasket Women 2013) because the target of our federation is to reach the Semi-Final of the 2015 African championship.
FIBA.com: Hamrouni Houda had a fantastic tournament in Dakar, Senegal. How do you see her future?
Walid: She must work harder on defense because in basketball, one wins trophies with defense first, and then with the offensive game. This is my opinion. However she has a very good future, no doubt about it.
FIBA.com: Can you talk about the performances of your opponents at the U18 event, especially Senegal?
Walid: I think Senegal based their game on the paint. They made a big mistake because at this level the young centers do not have good skills and they just play under the basket and they don’t have good mobility. However, in the Final they changed the style of play and the coach used five outside players, and they succeeded. If they learn to play from the outside with shooting, driving (to the basket), they can cause big problems for their opponents.
FIBA.com: What is Tunisia Basketball Federation’s objective in the next 10 years for the women?
Walid: Our goal is to reach the Semi-Finals of the 2015 Afrobasket Women and make it to final in the 2019.
FIBA.com: Selma M’Nasria is one of Tunisia’s key players. How important is she for the national team?
Walid: Salma is good player. I picked her for the women’s team when she was 18 in 2004 in order to help her improve her game. Now, she can shoot from behind the arc, she can drive to the basket like any modern center. On offense, I have advised her to play under the basket and make jump shots as she may become even stronger.
FIBA.com: Tunisia won the U18 Afrobasket Women eight years ago as hosts, then they finished second four years later. The women’s senior team has not done better than a runner-up in 1974 and 2001 as hosts. Why do you think that your senior teams have not finished in top positions more often in Afrobaskets Women?
Walid: Unfortunately most of my players play in the national championship, and this is not as competitive in order to give them international experience. Second, I have asked my players to have a strong mindset, be tough, play hard on defense and on the fast break. With this in mind, we have to improve our shooting percentage, because playing under the basket is very difficult for us as we haven’t anyone like (Tunisia men’s center) Salah Mejri’s (defensive skills). Against (teams such as) Nigeria or Senegal, we must play like Angola’s men (on the fastbreak and making jump shots). That is how they won six or seven African championships with that philosophy.
FIBA.com: The Afrobasket Women 2013 is going to be played in Mozambique. What are your expectations?
Walid: In Mozambique with a young team, because I’ll change 70% the team, the goal is to jump from the 10 place to the top places and have a very positive result.
FIBA.com: Can you comment on Tunisia’s men national team’ success, winning the Afrobasket and playing at the 2012 Olympics?
Walid: Tunisia’ men have taken the African championship because the coach has been in charge for eight years now, which is important for a coach to implement his philosophy and being understood by his players. They have a tall and good center. They have kept the same group and stabilized the national team. International experience is very important. In Tunisia, the men’s championship level is very good. And then they have a great coach such as [Adel] Tlatli.