From West Africa to the Women’s World Cup in Sydney: How Basketball Changed Sika Kone’s Life

“There are a lot of young girls in Mali who will watch us and believe that it’s possible for them to play [professionally], too.”

It was early May when chatter around the international basketball community spread. Although qualifying for the global event at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament held in Belgrade, Serbia at the beginning of the year, reports were claiming that Nigeria’s Federal Government would withdraw its Nigerian teams from international competitions for a period of two years.

All, of course, were shocked – but no one more than the Malian national team, who had been ranked as the next-best team from Group B in the Qualifiers.

Only a month had passed and the news was confirmed – the FIBA Executive Committee decided that Mali would replace Nigeria at the 2022 Women’s Basketball World Cup set to be played in Australia in September and October. And for one player, Sika Kone, it was nothing less than a pinch-me moment.

“Getting to play in the World Cup means so much to me and my country,” Kone explains to Women’s Health over a Zoom call.

“Right now there are a lot of young girls growing up in Mali who will watch us and believe that it’s possible for them to play in the WNBA, too. It’s been a long time since Mali has made it in the World Cup, so for me, it’s amazing.”

Sika Kone

A long time indeed: Mali has only ever appeared at one other Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2010 – where they finished 15th. And with Kone being named as one of – not just Mali’s – but Africa’s brightest talents, you might say the pressure is on. However for the 19-year-old, 6-foot-3 forward, she doesn’t feel it one bit.

“I don’t feel any pressure, to be honest. It just makes me excited and want to keep going,” she explains. “Playing basketball is my favourite thing to do, the first time I played, it was amazing. I knew I really wanted to keep going and that I really liked the sport, you know? When I am on the court I’m not nervous, I am just playing.”

That first time Kone played, she never would have imagined that it would lead her to where she is today. At just 10 years old, a friend took Kone to a small indoor basketball court in town and made her stand on the sidelines as she bounced the ball, and jumped up to throw it in a basket.

Kone’s eyes widened. She had no idea what this sport was, but she wanted to know more.

“I started playing basketball because of my friend. I went to see her playing and I instantly fell in love. After that, I went with her to play every day.”

Bamako, the capital of Mali, where Kone was born and raised, has a population of 2 million. Kone’s native language is Bambara, but she also speaks French, and English. Amid political instability for decades, Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa, is one of the poorest nations in the world. One of Mali’s bright sports over the past two decades has been its women’s basketball program, which won gold at the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket in 2007 and qualified for the 2008 Olympics.

“For me, growing up in Mali was like growing up in any other country… it was all I knew,” adds Kone.

“In Mali I had my family and friends, and they were so supportive and were always there for me, so yeah… I thought my childhood was amazing.”


The entry fee to play on that basketball court was the equivalent of around $10 per month back when Kone was staring off. However Kone’s late mum saw how much her daughter had fallen in love with the sport, and wanted nothing more than to support her.

Two years later, when Kone turned 12, she made it into the Malian national team. Club officials called her talent raw and authentic and wanted to hone her skills. When she was 13, Kone was picked as one of five players from her club to attend a national team training camp, winning a scholarship. And by the time she was 15, Kone had not only joined the country’s national team, but her view had expanded beyond that.

Sika Kone in action for Mali

“There were hard times [throughout my basketball journey], but just like anything you do in life, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easier. You just have to keep going and learning from it.”

“I’ve learnt a lot of things over the past five years. I learnt that you can do like anything in life if you put in your mind to it. Basketball has helped me become a better person,” she explains. “I want to impact the young people in Africa, because while we have a lot of talent there, the quality of life is different. I want to help not just the young people in Mali, but Africa, too.”

“I want young people to believe in themselves. I’d tell them to keep working hard and not to let anyone tell them they can’t.”

Mali women's basketball squad

For more information and to purchase tickets for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022, visit the official website here. You can also follow the journey on the event’s social media accounts – @FIBAWWC on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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