Bamba Brings Home Gold
Conway - For most college students the summer time means going back home and spending time with family and friends and enjoying some time away from the college life....for most college students.
Coastal Carolina University's Amidou Bamba did travel back to his native country of Canada, and he did spend some time with his family and his friends...his new friends...on the basketball court.
Following his freshman season at CCU, Bamba was invited to try out for the U19 Canadian National Team. After two days of intense workouts, Bamba was informed by the Canadian Team's Head Coach Roy Rana, head coach at Ryerson University in Canada, he would indeed be one of the 12 players selected to represent Canada at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup.
"There were 21 players at the selection camp all trying out for one of the spots on the 12-man roster," Bamba said. "It was a three-day process where we practiced twice a day for two days. It was really intense and we were going at each other very hard. At the end of those days, the coach (Rana) let me know I would be on the team."
"I was very thankful and it was just a huge honor for my first time coming out to make the team. It was just an intense time trying to impress the coaches and show them what I could do and how I could help the team."
After the final selections were made Bamba and the rest of his teammates spent five days practicing twice a day to prepare as a team for the World Cup. The first part of the Cup took place in France where all of the teams played three exhibition games leading into the actual tournament which was played in Cairo, Egypt.
"We played France, Lithuania and Spain while we were in France and basically they were exhibition games," Bamba said. "Those games did not count as actual tournament games. They helped us get a feel for what we were going up against and a feel for each other."
Following the exhibition games, all 16 teams playing in the World Cup made their way to Egypt for the actual tournament. It was going to be a grind for all teams as each team played seven games in nine days.
The Canadian team won six of its seven games, beginning with a 91-42 rout of Mali. In the second round, the Canadians faced one of the top teams in the world in Spain. The Spaniards defeated Canada in a close game 78-73. Little did Bamba and his teammates realize it would be the lone loss they would suffer in the tournament.
Following that loss Canada ran off five consecutive wins starting with a 100-75 win over Japan. Next came an 87-65 win over Angola and a hard-fought, history-making 73-67 win over France.
The France win was a monumental win in the history of Canadian National Basketball, as the win put the Canadians in the semifinals for the first time in their international basketball history.
"It was our (Canada) first time to ever make it past the quarterfinals, so we had made history after we beat France," Bamba said.
Canada could not rest on its laurels as they had to face the FIBA number-one ranked team in the world, the United States, to get into the finals.
The Canadians pulled the stunning upset with a 99-87 win over the USA, who was coached by Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari.
"After winning that game (USA), we felt we had just won the whole thing," Bamba said. "That game was such a huge magnitude knowing it's almost unheard of to beat the US. For us to have done something like that really had us on a high and going into the finals we were confident if we could beat the top-ranked team then we could go on and win one more game to secure the gold."
That is just what the Canadian team did as they faced Italy in the championship game and pulled away for a 79-60 win handing Canada its first win in World Cup play on any level.
Bamba said, "It was crazy how our cohesion picked up leading to the championship. We just got better each game and after the loss to Spain we just seemed to get better and better. We became more of a team and everyone accepted their roles and played their roles extremely well and it seemed so easy to keep winning when everyone was on the same page."
Bamba played in all seven games averaging over 10 minutes per game. He shot over 40 percent from the field in averaging 2.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
He saved his best game for last, as the rising sophomore scored his tournament-high six points and grabbed seven rebounds in the title-winning game over Italy.
"I felt like I got a lot better as each game went on," Bamba said. "I learned a lot about my style of play and how I fit in on the team. There were certain games where it was not my job to score. My job was to rebound, alter shots and do all of the little things that could help the team. And then there were games where I'd get the ball and I needed to try and put the ball through the net. So I think I played my role fairly well and well enough to help us succeed."
Now that Bamba is back he is ready to go into his sophomore season with the Chanticleers as more of a leader and to use his experience to help CCU on the court.
"I feel playing this summer has helped me get in better condition and I feel like I am a lot more cognizant of my own abilities and it has also helped me take more of a leader role after being one of the older guys on the Canada team," Bamba said. "I think I will be able to bring that same leadership, the same high intensity and the same energy I brought to the Canada team over to CCU and help us become a better team every single practice and going into the games."
Even though Bamba has not been back on campus that long, CCU Head Coach Cliff Ellis has already seen the difference international play has had on the Chanticleer forward.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and most people don't get it," Ellis said. "I think the fact that it was Canada's first gold, the fact they won the gold and the fact he is here, the fact they beat the United States, is such a tremendous accomplishment. I am so excited for him and I know that experience will be a highlight in his life. Not many people have a gold medal and he has a gold medal."
"I can see a difference in him, although I think he is a little tired from all the playing and travel. You can definitely see some growth on his return and hopefully that will rub off on this team."
Bamba has added to his basketball resume to not only represent the Chanticleers, but to also represent his home country on the international stage.
"It was the experience of a lifetime," Bamba said. "I can't even describe how much it meant just being on the team, making the team, making the team my first time, winning a championship my first time with the team. It meant so much to the people back at home, seeing all of the fans at the airport waiting for us, being on the stage when we won the gold. Everything we did, even off the court, seeing the pyramids, being together as a team, everything was just so unbelievable and just an unforgettable experience. It's nothing I would ever trade and if I have the opportunity to do it again I absolutely would."