|Astou Ndour has soared above her opponents in Samsun|
With unbeaten Spain trying to achieve an unprecedented three-peat at the U20 European Championship Women, one player who will turn only 19 next month is at the fore of their efforts.
Teenage phenomenon, Senegal-born Astou Ndour, promises to be a future match-up nightmare for any center at senior level. Measuring 1.96m, slick in the paint and deadly around the rim, with a great feel for rebounding and blocking shots, Ndour has won a medal with Spain at every youth event she has played.
She is determined to continue that streak in Samsun where Spain has already clinched a quarter-finals berth with one game remaining in the Second Round. Astou is ranked in the top 10 in more than a dozen different statistical categories, including points, rebounds, blocked shots, field goal and free throw percentages, as well as field goals attempted and made.
"I am aware that I am important for Spanish basketball. I'm happy because of that, and that the level in Spain is very challenging for me. I just enjoy the relationship of giving and getting back from it," says Astou.
Some four years ago however, this turn of events was probably not even in her dreams, let alone reality, for young Astou and her parents in Dakar, Senegal. For her arrival to Spain in 2009, she needs to thank her friend.
"I was six or seven when I first started playing. My parents played basketball when they were younger, and I played for my school in the school league in Dakar," Ndour remembers. "When my friend Aminata Diop came to Spain for a tryout, she made the team and people asked her if she knows anybody else back home who plays basketball. She suggested me."
Astou came to Gran Canaria, and the rest is history.
|"The only way to win a gold medal is to fight until the end" - Astou Ndour |
She made herself noticed in the summer of 2011 when, not even 17, she had near double-double averages to led Spain to the silver medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women in Chile, and to the bronze medal at the U18 European Championship Women in Oradea, Romania. She also won gold at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship in Rimini, Italy.
Later that year she also made her mark on the senior level, helping Gran Canaria reach the Eurocup Women Quarter-Finals, sitting amongst the tournament top-10 scorers (16.1), rebounders (10.9) and shot blockers (1.7).
A knee injury prevented her from playing for Spain last summer at the U18 and U20 European Championship Women.
She did however, win silver at 3x3 junior worlds, and came back even better following her injury, averaging 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in the Liga Feminina as Gran Canaria narrowly missed the playoffs.
Ndour now acknowledges that her goals of garnering a medal Samsun, and later this month in Lithuania at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women is only the beginning of a long journey.
Spain won gold last month at EuroBasket Women, and there are promising signs that they will contend for gold medals at senior level for the foreseeable. They are the reigning U20 and U16 European champions, and have more players coming up, like Ndour, Inmaculada Zanoguera, Yurena Diaz and Andrea Vilaro, all of whom are here in Samsun.
"Spanish basketball does have a bright future. It is the work they put in [to their players] from a really young age, even before U16, and the way they build up their players, that makes the difference. So, when we come to this age category, it makes us ready and prepared for European basketball."
The first chance Ndour will have to debut for the senior team debut in a major tournament will be next year, again in Turkey, at the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women.
"Just like for any other player, playing for the senior team is my dream, and I will keep working to get there," says the Dakar native.
But first, she has more work to do in Samsun where the goal for Astou Ndour and her teammates is clear: "The only way to win a gold medal is to fight until the end."