Without doubt, the recent failure of the men’s national basketball team of Nigeria, D’Tigers to qualify for the 2023 FIBA World Cup has broken the hearts of millions of Nigerian basketball fans and underscored the country’s steady decline in the sport.
The pain of the mishap is almost unbearable to most fans of the game because they expected the male team to hoist the country’s flag at the world stage again after their female compatriots were kicked out of the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup following the Federal Government’s decision to withdraw all the national teams from international competitions.
It will be recalled that D’Tigress had qualified for the World Cup which was held in Sydney, Australia last year after defeating France and Mali during the Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.
Unfortunately, the African champions were withdrawn due to the failure of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) to confirm Nigeria’s participation in the tournament, apparently in compliance with the Federal Government’s directive.
Therefore, basketball enthusiasts shifted their attention to D’Tigers when the 2023 World Cup qualifying series commenced as they hoped that the former African champions would console them by picking one of the tickets to represent Africa.
Consequently, Nigerian basketball fans’ expectations were really high especially after D’Tigers started the final window of the qualifiers with back-to-back victories against Ivory Coast and Guinea in Group E.
However, to pick one of the World Cup tickets, D’Tigers needed to beat Angola while hoping Cape Verde loses to Côte d’Ivoire. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as Cape Verde beat Côte d’Ivoire even before the Nigerians’ final clash with Angola which they lost 65 – 69 to end their hopes of participating in the 19th edition of the FIBA World Cup.
So, at the end of proceedings in Groups E and F, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, Cape Verde, South Sudan and Egypt qualified to represent Africa at the World Cup in 2023.
The flagship event is billed to be jointly hosted by multiple nations in Asia; the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia, from 25 August to 10 September, 2023.
The tournament will also serve as qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympics, where the top two teams from each of the Americas and Europe, and the top team from each of Africa, Asia and Oceania, will qualify alongside the Olympics host France.
Speaking after D’Tigers’ failure to qualify for the World Cup, coach of the team, Ogoh Odaudu, said he was pained by the near miss.
“It’s too bad that we did not make it to the World Cup but I think we put up a good fight and we can say we are proud of ourselves,” he said.
In a chat with Trust Sports, the NBBF Vice President, Babs Ogunade, said the federation is also pained that D’Tigers failed to clinch one of the World Cup tickets.
According to him, the federation is sad that the gains of the years past had been wasted as he maintained that the leadership crisis which engulfed the NBBF also played a negative role.
“We don’t like it that we didn’t qualify. We have to first look at where we are coming from. Look at what transpired between 2017 and 2021 when we qualified both teams for the Olympics. In fact, Nigeria was the first country in the world to qualify for the World Cup in China.
“However, the frictions, politics and bitterness that ensued in the NBBF dragged us to where we are. Every tournament is determined by the availability of funds, players,” he said.
Ogunade further said in the course of the qualifying tournament, it became clear that the qualification of D’Tigers wasn’t in their hands even if they defeated Angola in the last game.
“We played three matches and won two. Even if we had won all the three matches, our qualification was dependent on us winning but on some teams not winning theirs,” he stated.
A former D’Tigers player, Pastor Skambo Morrison, while speaking to Trust Sports said the players are not to blame as they did their best against all odds while urging that the domestic league should be revived.
“The honest truth is that our house is not in order and so many things happened that were not supposed to happen. We actually lost it from the beginning of the series, not at the fourth window. Even all the in-house fights also played their roles. It is not the fault of the players.
“We need to grow our league and these boys have shown that we have very good players in the country. There is no country that qualifies for the World Cup that doesn’t have a plan, a structure, an arrangement and strategy to win. We have Nations Cup coming, including BAL, what are we doing now to perform well,” he asked.
In a related development, the Daily Sun Sport quoted the president of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Musa Ahmadu Kida, as saying the team shocked many with its resilience and commitment.
“When this team was named, many felt that we were just going to make up the numbers but as it turned out, the team showed class, winning against Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea but lost narrowly to Angola.
“As a board, we’re proud of the team and our coaches. We can only look forward to ensuring that this team remains together for the AfroCan that will be hosted by Angola. We’re not resting on our oars but will plan to ensure the team is ready.”
However, going by the misfortunes suffered by the two national teams, Nigeria will be conspicuously missing in the basketball event at the next year’s Olympics in Paris, which is no doubt a bitter pill for most Nigerian basketball enthusiasts to swallow.