DALLAS — Despite sitting out Tunisia’s 82-73 win in the third-place game of AfroBasket 2015 on Sunday against Senegal, Dallas Mavericks center Salah Mejri certainly proved that his skills should translate well to the NBA following an impressive showing in the tournament.
The 7-foot-2 Mejri became the first player of Tunisian decent to sign with an NBA team this summer, inking a reported partially-guaranteed deal for three years with the Mavericks during free agency. He then went right to work with the Tunisian national team, looking to earn a bid in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
However, following a 58-51 defeat Saturday against Angola in the semifinals of the tournament, the Tunisian team came up short of the required first-place finish needed for an automatic berth in next year’s Olympic Games. Now, after averaging 10.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in six games of the tournament, Mejri turns his attention to preparing for the start of the Mavs’ training camp on Sept. 29.
“There are instances when playing on a national team can be akin to a really good base preparation for training camp,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle explained following the conclusion of the ’14-15 season.
He added: “I understand the geographic implications. … And by rule, an NBA organization is not allowed to discourage a player from playing in any kind of international things or FIBA things.”
The 235-pound Mejri made a splash in the first game of group play for the host country of this year’s African championships by tallying 11 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals as Tunisia sprinted to a 77-55 win over Uganda on Aug. 19. He followed that up with another impressive effort against CAF, battling foul trouble to post 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks in a 68-52 win.
Mejri’s most dominant performance would then come against the eventual champion Nigerian squad, scoring 24 points, grabbing seven rebounds, recording three blocks and collecting three steals as Tunisia won by 11, 70-59. But with foul trouble limiting his effectiveness the rest of the tournament, the 29-year-old wouldn’t be enough to push his home country to the top of the podium, settling instead for a spot in next year’s FIBA Olympic qualifying tournaments.
Mejri played in 34 games with Real Madrid last season, averaging 4.3 points and 2.1 rebounds as his team sprinted to the Spanish League title. He then upped his averages to 5.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in eight games as Real Madrid also captured the Euroleague championship.
Garnering MVP honors in the 2011 FIBA African championships before competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Mejri comes to Dallas with a proven track record in international competition. The Mavericks will now try to unleash Mejri’s full potential, hoping he can help fill the void left by the free-agent departure of starting center Tyson Chandler to Phoenix this summer.