Nigeria’s male national basketball team, D’Tigers are, without doubt, gelling in time as they finalise preparations for their third appearance at the Olympics.
In recent exhibition matches against world champions, the United States of America and Argentina, the former African champions showed flashes of what should be expected of them in Tokyo.
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Last Saturday, D’Tigers recorded a historic 90-87 victory over the USA in Las Vegas. They followed up with another 94-71 victory over Argentina who are ranked 4th in the World.
D’Tigers who are ranked 22nd in the world were unfortunately brought down to earth on Wednesday after Australia humbled them 69-108 points in their third tune-up match in the USA.
The loss to Australia ended Coach Mike Brown’s unbeaten record with the team since his appointment in 2020. However, the D’Tigers team now dominated by players in the NBA are still brimming with confidence as they get set to hit Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.
After several weeks of camping in California, USA, Coach Brown made a provisional list of 15 players, out of which eight youngsters are plying their trade in the NBA. Detroit Piston Centre, Jahlil Okafor who is in line to make his international debut for Nigeria is among the young Tigers.
Others are Miami Heat’s trio of Gabe Vincent, Chikezie ‘KZ’ Okpala and 2020 NBA draft pick, Precious Achiuwa, Utah Jazz’z Miye Oni, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Josh Okogie, Metu Chimezie of Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Buck’s Jordan Nwora.
And after missing out on the 2019 World Cup, Spain based Obi Emegano returns with his inclusion, alongside Caleb Agada, Ekpe Udoh and Stanley Okoye who has been a constant feature in the team since 2015.
A member of the 2015 Afrobasket team, Mike Gbinije made the cut with Chima Moneke who has been impressive for the team since making his debut during the 2021 Afrobasket qualifiers.
Brown is said to be having a selection headache as he must drop three of the 15 players before the commencement of hostilities on July 25.
With this mixture of youth and experience in D’Tigers, expectations are high that the team will put up better performances in Tokyo. D’Tigers’ previous appearances left much to be desired.
In their debut appearance in London in 2012, D’Tigers could only manage a 60-56 victory over fellow Africans, Tunisia in the opening match. They suffered losses in their remaining four matches 79-73 (France), 79-93 (Argentina), 72-52 (Lithuania) and 156-73 (USA).
It was the same shambolic performance when the D’Tigers made their second appearance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil. Grouped alongside Croatia, Spain, Lithuania, Argentina and host Brazil, D’’Tigers managed to win only one match which was the 90-76 victory over Croatia.
If they are to be judged by their performances in London and Rio, D’Tigers can be rightly classified as underachievers but there has been tremendous improvement in the team in the past four years.
Consequently, their recent showings in the international friendlies, especially the victory over the USA, which is the first by an Africa nation, have elicited infectious optimism among basketball stakeholders including the Vice-President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
While receiving Team Nigeria on Monday on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, the Vice-President heaped praises on D’Tigers for the historic victory over the USA.
He said “And for anyone who thinks we are joking, maybe they haven’t seen our exhibition basketball game on Saturday with the USA team, especially that amazing block by Precious Achiuwa against KD – Kevin Durant, who is probably the best player in the NBA right now. So, Precious, you are the real MVP!.”
With this Presidential endorsement, D’Tigers will open their Tokyo Olympics campaign against Australia on July 25, nine days after their exhibition match in the USA. They will also square up with other Group B opponents, Germany and Italy.
Basketball stakeholders who spoke to Trust Sports on what they are expecting from the D’Tigers charged the Coach Brown tutored lads not to be complacent despite last week’s victories over the USA and Argentina.
While speaking on the team’s recent friendly matches, a former D’Tigers player, Mohammed Abba Jugu, expressed satisfaction with the players shooting abilities and tight defending.
“D’Tigers did well by beating heavyweights, USA and Argentina. They won because they shot accurately, almost 65%. In any basketball match, if you shoot your balls 65% accurately, your chances of winning will be very high.
“Against, Australia, they shot badly and that was why they lost. And I think after the victories over America and Argentina, they got carried away. I hope they will learn to avoid complacency.
“There is a possibility for D’Tigers to finish among the top four in the Tokyo Olympics. It is possible because this is one of the best teams that we have assembled for the Olympics.
“I advise that they should maintain tight defence and shooting accuracy. Even in the NBA, if you can shoot 20 three-point shots, that’s about 60 points and you are likely going to win your match,” he said.
Abba, therefore, maintained that even as the D’Tigers are in Group A with formidable opponents like Australia, Germany, Italy, they will win most of their matches to end their miserable run in the Olympics.
Another former D’Tigers player, Pastor Morrison Skambo also called on the players to redouble their efforts in order to progress out of Group A.
He also charged those handling the team to give priority attention to the welfare of the players as he maintained that they are not used to the shabby treatment.
“First of all, it is a great thing to be at the Olympics. Every athlete and country wants to be there. In Africa, Nigeria is the only country that has both the male and female teams going to the Games.
“We have well-exposed people that are representing Nigeria from the coaching crew to the players. We have quality players and a coaching crew but I am praying we have quality administrators to see that the players are well taken care of.
“You can’t treat them shabbily. These players are not used to the fire brigade approach because they grew up where the best basketball is played.
Sincerely speaking, I will be glad if we come out of the first round and we will take it up from them. It won’t be easy for anybody in the Olympics. It will be nice to win at least two games so we can advance to the next level or technically advance as the best loser,” said Skambo.
D’Tigers have exactly a week more to open their 2020 Olympics campaign and expectations are that they will be able to banish the ghosts of their lacklustre performances at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics.