2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup: Malian rising star Sika Kone ready to 'do great things'

The 20-year-old played a pivotal role in Mali’s historic fourth place at the U19 World Cup in 2021. The power forward is ready to leave a mark at the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup, and beyond.

By Evelyn Watta | Created 22 September 2022
Picture by Credit: FIBA

Sika Kone is ready to be the talisman for the Malian women’s basketball team.

2021 was a defining season for the talented power forward.

She had a standout performance at the FIBA U19 World Cup, where Mali advanced to a historic fourth-place finish.

The 20-year-old also maded the All-Star Team of the 2022 Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

After a decorated campaign for Mali and in the Spanish League with Gran Canaria, her third-round drafting by WNBA team New York Liberty last April was no surprise.

A knee injury may have delayed her American dream in the world's top basketball league, but she is eager to pick up the momentum and focus on being the key player she is predicted to be.

“I feel I'm supposed to be in the national senior team, and I just have to keep working hard and improve my game,” she said in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com from her hometown Bamako before the team left for Sydney.

“This is a good opportunity to show our talent, represent not only Mali but Africa.”

Sika Kone. (Photo by FIBA)

Sika Kone chasing more glory at 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup

When Mali’s World Cup campaign tipped off in their first group B game against Japan, Kone's focus was to prove she recovered her full fitness after a right knee injury that required minor surgery affected her season.

Despite the 56-89 loss, the 19-year-old showcased glimpses of her talent as she ended the game with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists.

Mali will look to build on her aggressive offence and resolute defence to navigate a difficult group B that pits them against 2018 runners-up and hosts Australia, Serbia, France, and Canada.

Fully fit now and with her confidence soaring after an eye-catching senior team debut at the 2021 FIBA AfroBasket, where they took silver behind Nigeria, Kone is looking to the World Cup to stage another classy act.

“I feel good as it's a big opportunity for me. To be able to play with the senior team at the World Cup for the first time is very exciting as it’s a huge experience for me,” she said.

“For us this chance is everything. We are strong and have a great team, we just have to play our way.

“The group is tough," she admitted. “And if you look at all the players, they are great. But we are also strong, and we just have to work hard and sharpen our defence.”

READ MORE: 2022 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Australia

Mali replaced Nigeria at the World Cup in June following a government decision to withdraw the continental champions from international basketball for two years.

The large west African nation, who lost all their games during the qualifiers, were thrilled at the chance to play again at the World Cup even though getting all their foreign-based players in the pre-tournament camp in Bamako was “hard”.

Sika Kone: Discovering basketball and rolling with it

In 2010 when Mali last played at the Women’s World Cup, Kone didn’t even know what basketball was. A childhood friend convinced her to shoot some hoops on one of the outdoor courts in sunny Bamako and she loved it.

“I started basketball when I was about 12 because of my friend,” she recalled.

“She was playing basketball like her dad, who wanted her to play as he did. I was like, ‘what’s basketball?’ We went to the court, and she showed me what basketball was. Then I said, ‘basketball why not? It’s cool!”

“I went home and told my family about basketball,” said the youngest of six siblings.

“They supported me even though they didn't know what basketball was. My mum even bought me the jersey to start playing basketball with,” she said as the memory of her late mum, who died early this year, took the smile away from her face.

Kone’s mother fully supported her basketball vision and was thrilled when her daughter was pre-selected for the national team when she was just 13.

“When Mali was going to the World Cup qualifiers we were 15 in camp, and they picked the travelling 12,” said the towering 1.93m player. “I was already tall, but they said I was too young.”

And when she finally earned her call-up to the U16 women’s African championship in 2017, the talented youngster blazed a brilliant trail.

She combined her size, strength, and speed to help her team to a fifth straight U16 continental title and booked her place in the All-star five.

It was a breakthrough year as that’s when the 15-year-old left home on a basketball scholarship in Spain at the Canterbury School of Gran Canaria. She was afraid of the change but ecstatic to pursue her basketball dream. In Europe, she intensified her hard work ethic.

“When I got there, it was hard without family at that age. But I had to focus because I knew why I went there to study basketball.

“I kept working hard to get better every day.”

READ MORE: Sika Koné: The prodigious basketball star shooting towards greatness

Sika Kone: Destined for greatness

It wasn’t long before the rising star who would spend her free time mastering her English and watching WNBA videos, caught the eyes of the Spanish League scouts.

Kone, who grew up looking up to her idol Candace Parker, joined Gran Canaria who debuted in the Liga Femenina in the 2021-22 season and immediately flagged her huge potential.

The Malian averaged 15.3 rebounds (the best in the league) and 15.5 points in the 2019 season, the same year she led Mali to a historic fourth-place finish at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Serbia.

Her energy on the court was a game-changer. She stretched opposing defences and finished with a tournament-high, dropping 19.7 points and 14.8 rebounds per game.

The world took note of her firepower.

FIBA, the sport’s governing body, described her “as the best from Africa, with the genuine potential to be one of the best to have ever come from Africa”.

“When I hear that, I feel good… when people tell me, ‘I love you, I love how you play’. It makes me happy and makes me want to keep working hard as I know what I want, and I haven’t gotten to that.

“I still feel like I have to do more… I am not there yet. I have a lot to improve my game still,” she continued of her desire to shine at both ends of the court.

Kone, who also helped Mali to the U18 women’s African Championship title in 2018, feels she can realise her full potential in the WNBA. In April, she was New York Liberty’s final pick. Kone was ready for that moment. She was thrilled but there was a feeling of emptiness.

“I was happy, but it was really hard… It was hard because of my mum. She always looked forward to the day I will be drafted. She supported my dreams and wanted to see me succeed in everything I love,” she said.

Sika Kone in action at the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. (Photo by FIBA)

But that pain has become the fuel motivating Kone to want to make history and build a legacy.

“I want to continue to do my thing, do what I'm doing and make her proud. Do great things and improve my game to keep her name alive.”

“My dream is not just to be able to play in the WNBA,” she explained. “To get drafted is one thing, I have to keep working hard to join the team. I want to go, stay and fit there and do something great for my team.”

She is well on her way to becoming the fifth Malian to play in the WNBA. But not just yet.

For now, she will continue donning the number 23 shirt at Gran Canaria for the 2022-23 season. She is happy to remain in Spain and follow in the footsteps of her teen idol Meya Tireira, one of the experienced Malian players in the team in Sydney and Valencia’s all-time top scorer.

“I love how she plays, and I am so happy that I am now playing with her on the national team. She is the best. I talk to her, and she gives me a lot of advice,” she said of the 36-year-old, who played at Beijing 2008, the last time Mali qualified for the Olympics.

The top team in Sydney will earn a spot for Paris 2024.

READ: 2022 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup: Preview, schedule and stars to watch

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