Pros playing in Europe to lead Seychelles title defense at the IOIG in Reunion
The Seychelles men's basketball team will be going all out to defend their IOIG title won in 2011 on home turf. (Patrick Joubert, Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles men’s basketball team is set on ensuring the successful defense of its Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG) title with the addition of two of its best overseas-based players to the squad.
The archipelago’s star players, France-based Abdel Sylla and Italy-based Andrew Rath have taken some time off from their professional leagues to support their national side at the regional sports event which takes place every four years.
With less than a fortnight to go until the 9th Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG), sports authorities and athletes from across the Indian Ocean are striving to come up with the best teams possible in time to head off to Reunion island.
The biggest regional sports event will bring together sportsmen and women from Reunion, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar, Mayotte, Maldives and Madagascar
The battle will be on for medals in some 13 sporting disciplines, both collective and individual.
Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands with a population of around 90,000 people, is also aiming to put up a good fight at the games to try and keep up with what it achieved in the last Indian Ocean Games held in Seychelles in 2011.
The Indian Ocean archipelago won a total of 127 medals, including 57 gold, 27 silver and 43 bronze.
In the team-based sports, on the men’s side Seychelles outshone all the other participating countries in three disciplines; volleyball, basketball and football, while the Seychelles women’s volleyball team won the country’s only gold medal in the collective disciplines.
Customarily, Reunion and Madagascar are the two traditional forces at the Games, but their supremacy has been challenged by both Mauritius and Seychelles in recent games, with the latter narrowly missing out eclipsing Reunion at the top of medal table the last time around.
Reunion and Madagascar were also formerly considered the two powerhouses in basketball at the regional event, but Seychelles defied the odds four years ago to grab gold ahead of another surprise package in the form of Mayotte which it met in the final.
|Abdel Sylla in action. (Abdel Sylla/Facebook) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
Abdel Sylla, who plays in France’s Pro A league, played a key role in ensuring Seychelles’ triumph on home turf four years ago, will be competing in the IOIG for a second time. This year he will be joined by professional colleague Andrew Rath, a player plying his trade in the second tier of Italian basketball in the Pro B league.
This was Seychelles first title in basketball at the IOIG, and Sylla became an overnight sensation in the Indian Ocean island nation for his stellar performance.
Merely a trainee in France’s Pro A division at the time, since then Sylla has become a fully fledged player in France’s top division, a fact which has amplified the belief of the local population that a second win on the trot is very much possible.
Asked whether he is feeling the weight of the team upon his shoulders, Sylla told SNA that by now he is used to the pressure, having evolved in top level basketball in Europe since he started his professional career in 2007.
“Pressure is part and parcel of the game” he said adding however that the pressure of winning the IOIG the first time, and to now have to successfully defend the crown, is two different kinds of pressure.
Comparing the 2011 team to the current one, the big man said the team from four years ago was strong in character while the latest squad is more talented.
“We cannot judge the 2015 team at this moment in time. We have to wait until after the games to evaluate its achievement or shortcomings. I believe we will do okay,” stressed the player.
Sylla has recently been signed by Orléans Loiret Basket which plays in France’s Pro A league. The 2.05 metre tall player who started his professional career in basketball with SLUC Nancy in 2007 has also played for Pau-Orthez.
|Italy-based Andrew Rath (wearing white) will be making his debut in the Indian Ocean Games. (Patrick Joubert, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
His fellow professional colleague, Rath is looking at the challenge at hand in a different light, expressing his amazement at the level of interest shown by Seychellois in the team and in the game of basketball in general.
“In Italy it is all about football. Here, the people love all sports. They are very supportive of basketball, and I couldn’t be prouder to represent my country,” Rath confided to SNA.
Commenting on preparations for the upcoming Indian Ocean Island Games, he said Seychelles is on the right track and that the players are doing all they can attain the team’s target.
“This is a very serious team, with serious coaches and even more serious followers. We are working to build a very good system of play, similarly to what I am used to playing in Italy, very organized. We are… focussed on what we have to have to do.”
Asked what he thought of playing alongside his fellow pro, he said Sylla is very easy to understand as a player and that he enjoys playing at his side.
"This is a team of ‘frer’ [meaning brothers in the native Creole language]; we are all Seychellois first and we are playing for one team that is what matters the most. This is reflected in our games, among all of us,” concluded the softly spoken player.
Sylla and Rath will be among the final selection of 12 Seychellois players heading to Reunion. In an interview with SNA in May, the coach of the men’s basketball team Tony Juliette said Seychelles being drawn alongside Madagascar, Mayotte and the Comoros for this year's games is quite a tough pool considering the two finalists of the last games have been drawn together.
The Seychelles entire delegation to the Indian Ocean Island games is expected to be over 300 comprising of athletes, officials, coaches among others.