With a population of just under 600,000, the African island nation of Cape Verde made history Saturday in Okinawa as the smallest country to ever contest the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Facing world No. 32 Georgia, the No. 64 Cape Verde team struggled to find its rhythm early but made a stronger second-half showing in an 85-60 loss to its fellow World Cup debutant in Group F at Okinawa Arena.
A small but vocal group of traveling Cape Verdean fans made their presence felt inside the building, energetically cheering their team despite it trailing by a big margin for most of the contest.
The team's star, Real Madrid center Edy Tavares, was unhappy with the final result but said being on the international stage "means a lot" for Cape Verde.
"It's a big thing for our country to be at the World Cup and to make history (as) the smallest country. (But) that was the only positive part about this game," said the 31-year-old Tavares, who tallied six points and 12 rebounds while facing constant double teams from the Georgian defense.
Cape Verde forward Ivan Almeida thanked the fans for their "amazing energy" and vowed to give them a better performance against No. 17 Venezuela on Monday.
"We came a long way and we weren't expected to be here, so they're just happy for us participating, but we want to give them something," he said. "That something is going to be a victory in this World Cup, so we've got to go out there and grind it out."
Cape Verde will play its final Group F game Wednesday against a No. 7 Slovenian side led by Tavares' friend and former Real Madrid teammate Luka Doncic.
The Dallas Mavericks superstar dropped 37 points in a scintillating World Cup debut Saturday at Okinawa Arena as he led his team to a 100-85 victory over Venezuela.
The performance would have come as no surprise to Tavares, who predicted Doncic's rise long before the 24-year-old became one of the sport's biggest names.
"It's a pleasure to see him play like this, because when I got to Madrid, I told people that he was going to be the best player in the world, the best player to ever play in the NBA, the best player from Europe, and they didn't really believe me," Tavares said. "Now I'm super happy to see him succeed like this."