Following a four-year hiatus in the Nigerian domestic basketball league, the captain of First Bank of Lagos, Joy Ebiega, has raised the alarm that Nigeria is losing her top players to clubs in Benin Republic. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former FCT Angels and Kada Stars player spoke on her entry into basketball, the poor state of the game in Nigeria, and the need for the NBBF to immediately bring back the domestic league to halt the ongoing exodus of players to neighbouring countries.
How did you start playing basketball?
I started playing basketball when I was in secondary school at Queen Amina College in Kaduna, which was in 2009. Before then I didn’t know anything about basketball. I had knowledge of football only. However, I had a neighbour who was a basketball player so I would follow her to the court just to sit and watch. Once in a while, I would bounce the ball by the side of the court. But all that changed when my school basketball team participated in the Milo schools basketball championship. When they returned, they were praised at the school assembly ground, and then I said to myself I want to be celebrated too. I got more interested and asked my parents for sports kits which my mum provided for me. However, soon after I started playing, I had an appendix operation and had to stop playing for like two years. I resumed in 2011 and since then I have been playing the game.
Could you share with us how you transited from school to professional basketball player?
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So, after I graduated from secondary school, I kept on training there. Then a friend informed me that FCT Angels were having trials in Abuja so I came over to join the team. I did not have much playing time so I returned to Kaduna to join the state team GT-2000 which is now called KADA Queens. It was more convenient for me because I grew up in Kaduna. I was there for a year before Coach Abdulraham of Customs invited me to join his team. In Customs, I met many senior players and I benefited a lot from them. After a season with Customs, my former team GT-2000 wanted me back. So, after negotiation, I joined again which was in 2018. Before the season ended, Coach Chika and Koko of First Bank invited me to come for their continental trial which I did and made the cut to feature in FIBA Zone 3 Championship. We went to Cotonou to play against other countries and got to the next round. In a nutshell, that was how I moved from school basketball player to professional basketball.
How disappointed are you that for more than four years now, there is no basketball league in Nigeria?
It is really bad. So many players have switched their focus to other things. It is possible that basketball is their priority but for four years, there has been no basketball league in Nigeria. That is a lot of time and the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) is doing nothing. So, it is a huge concern to me as a player because upcoming players are supposed to see us in our prime playing but for four years those kids have no one to look up to in Nigeria. It is indeed a shame that for four years, nothing has happened. The whole basketball league is down. Players are moving out of Nigeria to play elsewhere. I know a lot of them who have moved to Cotonou in Benin Republic. I think Nigeria is more endowed but seeing a neighbouring country like Benin Republic taking all our players because of our inability to organise the domestic league is disheartening. I am really concerned because those at the helm of affairs had played the game and should do better than this. If you take four years out of our careers, it is a lot. We do not have the chance to play for our national team because the league is not there for us to prove ourselves. Therefore, anytime we have an international tournament, they just go and bring girls from abroad because there is no domestic league to showcase what we have at home. We are presently rusty because there is no league. This is worrisome.
Would you say Nigeria’s loss is Benin Republic’s gain?
Of course, it is because their league will sooner than later be more illustrious than ours. They are playing but we are here lamenting and losing our best players to them. Nigerians are leaving for Benin Republic to increase their profile. I know about 20 Nigerian male basketball players that are in Cotonou. I also know so many female players who play for the Asphalt club and the New Airland club. Almost all the girls in these clubs are Nigerians. Yes, there is a huge talent shift from Nigeria to Benin Republic. They are moving in droves because they earn good money there.
In view of the above, to what extent would you say female basketball has declined in Nigeria?
It has dropped drastically. Nothing is happening. Unfortunately, there is no sign that something will happen soon. We are talking about a four year hiatus in the domestic basketball league. Female basketball league needs more encouragement. The league has declined immensely.
Considering the state of the game in Nigeria, would you say you regret your decision to play basketball?
Personally, I always say to myself ‘focus on what you can control’ because I cannot control the NBBF and whatever is happening. So, allowing them to stop my dream is not an option. I really want to make an impact not just as a basketball player but as someone who is rendering service to humanity. Therefore, I have no single regret. I am still focused on my goal which is to play for the national team. The league is in comatose but my dream is very much alive.
What is your appeal or advice to NBBF?
To bring back the league and get us playing the game again. My colleagues and I want to play the game again. We are all starved and this is killing us on a daily basis. It is said an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. We don’t want to become tools in the devil’s hand.
What have been your low and high points as a basketball player?
My low point is no doubt the inability of the NBBF to organise the female basketball league. It is a challenge and I have discussed this before. I really want to play and represent my country but I am being denied the opportunity to play and be seen. Meanwhile, my high point is when I joined First Bank because it is a big team. First Bank gave me the opportunity to play in the FIBA Zone 3 Championship.
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