Hamchetou Maiga Ba - Going to Beijing
July 31, 2008
The 'Queen' heads to Beijing
The Queen is Olympics-bound.
Mali's Queen of Basketball, that is.
Former Old Dominion player Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, who earned the "Queen of Basketball" nickname when she was a teenager, is captain of her country's national team, which will make its first Olympic appearance in Beijing.
When Mali beat Senegal in the 2007 FIBA championship to seal its Olympic bid, it was the first time a northwestern African nation earned the right to compete at the Summer Games. Maiga-Ba was the MVP.
"Before, it was always soccer, soccer, soccer," said the 2001 Colonial Athletic Association MVP, who led the Lady Monarchs to the Elite Eight in 2002. "Winning the African championships was huge. The president gave all the players houses. We've won at the junior level before but never at the senior level."
As for Maiga-Ba's house, "They're building it," the 6-1 forward said.
Maiga-Ba, who starts for the WNBA's Houston Comets, visits Mali for three weeks every year. She still is close with her 18 brothers and sisters, many of whom reside there. She returned home to Mali's capital city, Bamako, to marry her husband, Baba Ba, on New Year's Eve in 2005.
Baba Ba and Maiga-Ba's aunt plan to travel to China and a few ODU friends will be sharing the experience. Former teammates Lucienne Berthieu and Myriah Spence, along with ex-team manager Felecia Allen, plan to support Maiga-Ba in Beijing.
Allen said she and the others followed Mali's progress in the African championships via the Internet and communicated via instant message. After Mali's victory in the championship game, she got a call from Maiga-Ba's husband. She told him, "I can't believe we won!"
Maiga-Ba, 30, plans to march in the opening ceremony and live in the village with the rest of the athletes. Former Virginia Tech player Nare Diawara also is on Mali's roster, though a knee injury could mean limited action.
"Honestly, I don't know if I can say this was ever a dream of mine," said Maiga-Ba, who has been a member of her country's national team since 1994.
No Mali athlete has won a gold medal - one reason everyone in the country is familiar with Olympian Daba Modibo Keita, who could win Mali's first gold, in tae kwon do. The women's basketball team is not expected to advance beyond its six-team group, which includes the United States, China and the Czech Republic.
But Maiga-Ba, whose mother and aunt also played on the national team, is encouraged by her team's performance in the FIBA event. After losing to Senegal in the opening game, the Mali team redeemed itself in the championship, defeating the hosts 63-56.
Maiga-Ba said spending several weeks training with the team - instead of the chaotic way she prepared for international competition in the past - helped.
"This is the first time for that," she said. "Most years, I go straight to the game. One year, I came from Mozambique and landed in Spain. I was coming from the airport and missed the beginning of the game."
Maiga-Ba - who is fluent in English, Spanish and three African dialects - has found success at every level. Long-armed and deceptively quick, she shot 57 percent from the floor as a senior in college, when she received first-team CAA honors and first-team All-Defensive team honors.
She was selected in the first round - 12th overall - by Sacramento of the WNBA in 2002. Three years later, she won the WNBA title with the Monarchs. In 2006, she was traded to Houston.
Admittedly, she said, nothing compares to representing her country, even if she is the oldest woman on the squad these days.
"They all call me Auntie now," said Maiga-Ba, who joined the Mali team when she was 16 years old. "I don't have the words to explain it right. I've had lots of success at ODU and with Sacramento and different clubs.
"I've always wanted to bring the same to my country."
Vicki L. Friedman, (757) 477-6874, VickiL120@cox.net