Nine years ago, the Nigerian basketball team also known as the d’tigers experienced the heaviest loss in the history of the Olympics. They were shellacked by the USA with a final score of 156-73. This was as disappointing as it could get. As a nation that has constantly proven to be one of the premier breeding grounds for athletes of all sports, this was a rude awakening and a sign that things had to change.
With the talent pool generated from athletes of Nigerian descent, it should be embarrassing for the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) to field such incompetency. Nigeria is a country of over 200 million population, and over the previous decades, she has produced some amazing athletics talents. Many of whom played basketball, some making it all the way to the NBA.
We can’t talk Nigerian basketball without mentioning Hakeem ‘the dream’ Olajuwon, who is a Hall of Famer. Though Hakeem never played for the national team, He set the standards for Nigerian basketball. He made young kids all over Lagos and Nigeria believe that the NBA dream is a realistic one.
The d’Tigers Progressions
Over the years as the game of basketball kept growing, Nigerians all over the world have gravitated towards it. Some players excelled more than others but the pool just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s no longer one Nigerian in the NBA, its dozens now. No Nigerian has touched the heights of Hakeem in the NBA; however, it’s made up for it with the continuous influx of Nigerian talents coming into it.
All of this progression has not translated into much success for the national team. In the last two Olympics games the d’Tigers have ever qualified for, they are a combined 2-8. Winning one game in each of the last two Olympics. There has been a minimal success on the continental front, with the d’Tigers taking home gold at the Afro Basket in 2015, the only time they have won gold.
In February 2020, the NBBF made the bold move to hire former head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers Mike Brown. This was a coup by them, getting someone as experienced and accomplished as Mike Brown. It signaled a change in mentality for the NBBF and laid the groundwork for the next iteration of the D’Tigers. Mike Brown brought with him a certain level of cachet that made Nigerian players all over the diaspora gravitate towards him.
Nigeria is excited
In preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, the d’Tigers have been in Las Vegas, USA. In that time, they have been able to raise the hopes of the nation. They started their exhibition games by beating the USA. A feat that honestly never felt attainable.
That alone sparked so much interest and raised the conversation about basketball in Nigeria unlike never before. With a victory over the Argentines as well, it has created a palpable excitement that hasn’t been experienced for the game ever before in Nigeria.
The defense has to be the calling card for this team. With a strong perimeter defender like Josh Okogie leading the way, and Precious Achuiwa on the backline. This team has been playing with a lot of grit and tenacity and that will have to continue. Coach Brown talked about how he wants his team to play fast, keep getting easy points in transition, coupled that with the fine shooting from Gabe Vincent and Caleb Agada, these are good things to build upon.
As the team departs for Tokyo on the 19th of July, Coach Brown will do well to keep his team focused on the task at hand. With another episode of ineptitude by the NBBF and Nigeria as a whole. The Olympics kits are stuck with custom services and the team will be traveling to Japan without them. Hopefully, none of this will be of major distraction to the squad.
Nigeria is the only representative of Africa in the Olympics. It’s on the coaching staff to make sure the pressure doesn’t affect their play. Mike Brown told the UNDEFEATED: “The talent is there. It’s just about getting everybody organized and on the same page; also, getting everybody excited about playing and wanting to be a part.”
With the growth of basketball continuously spreading over the globe, Nigeria as a nation has shown it will grow with it. What a medal in the Olympics would do for the country is unfathomable to think about at this moment. One thing is for sure, Nigerians can’t wait to find out how far this team can go.