In the build up to this year's FIBA Africa Club Championship in Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo, Espoir's head coach Jean Bahufite sounded very upbeat: "winning the tournament is too much to ask but we should have a good shot at a top six finish."
As it turned out, a top-six finish was still very ambitious for a team who were only making their debut in Africa's most coveted basketball club tournament.
Even after reinforcing the squad with two experienced players in Kami Kabange and Bienvenue Ngandu, Espoir, who have dominated local basketball this season, found the going tough as they lost all their matches in group A; the weaker of the two groups considering that group B had seven-time champions D'Agosto, defending champions Etoile Sportive du Sahel (ESS), 2006 champions Petro Atlético, Al Ahly, Nigeria's Kano Pillars and Mazembe of DRC.
Espoir came close to wins in the first two matches but their inability to kill off games proved costly as they lost to the hosts Mongomo (68-70) and Ivory Coast's ABC 48-58. Against Mongomo, Espoir won the first two quarters 20-17 and 19-13 but lost their way in the second half (14-23 and 15-17).
In game three, Espoir lost to Egypt's Ettehad 64-78 before losing their final two group matches against Gabon's Manga 47-63 and Recreativo Libolo of Angola 74-92.
Meanwhile, Angola's Primeiro D'Agosto strengthened their African hegemony after beating arch-rivals Petro de Luanda 80-69 in the final. It was Primeiro's eighth title and clearly showed the side's mental strength as they bounced back from last's year's final defeat against ESS.
For Petro, it was another case of 'so close yet so far' as the hunt for a second African title drags on. They marched into the final as slight favorites following their 86-80 win over their arch-rivals in the group stage but that counted for nothing as veteran Miguel Lutonda led from the front. Even after revamping the squad with Serbian forward Milan Vucicevic, Jamaica captain Andre Omar Smith and two Tunisian internationals in Mohamed Hadidane and Marouen Lahmar, ESS could not repeat their heroics.
After losing two of their group matches, against Petro (69-70) and Primeiro (63-79), the Tunisian giants met Ettehad in the quarter-finals and lost 61-75.
In 2010, APR defied the odds as they finished third in the tournament.
Espoir's run in the tournament
Espoir 68-70 Mongomo (20-17, 19-13, 14-23, 15-17)
Espoir 48-58 ABC (19-24, 05-04, 15-14, 09-16)
Espoir 64-78 Ettehad (13-21, 23-14, 14-20, 14-22)
Espoir 47-63 Manga
Libolo 92-74 Espoir (27-13, 14-22, 24-15, 27-24)
(Espoir finished bottom in their group)
(9-12th place) Espoir 61-110 Kano Pillars
(11-12th place) Espoir 79-81
Al Ahly (EGY)
Kano Pillars (NGR)