What lays in wait for the Nigerian basketball team? It’s a great question. With the Olympic Games just around the corner and having just beaten the United States, the answer is simple. A place in the history books and a medal could await. Is that possible though?
More importantly, how is it possible and why is the current side different from past squads?
So, is a medal at the Olympics really possible?
After the showings put forward in London 2012 and Rio 2016, you’d be forgiven for suggesting that Olympic glory is beyond the Nigerian basketball team.
The thing is this team is built differently. In our opinion, a medal is a real prospect and, if that fails, a best ever placing at the Olympic Games is almost a given.
Now to the why…
That’s right, the ‘can they, can’t they’ question is really easily answered; anything is possible. Given Nigeria have just beaten the USA 90-87 nobody can doubt it either; after all, the USA are the number one ranked team in the world as per the FIBA standings.
There are a couple more reasons why we think the Nigeria team can immortalise themselves.
Mike Brown is a coach with knowhow
Now, before we move on to the man in the top job at the moment, we have to recognise where Nigeria have come from. In 2012, Ayo Bakare was the Head Coach; his coaching career has been limited to Nigeria where he’s been with the Ebun Comets since 1998.
Four years later Will Voigt was at the helm; he did a good job for Nigeria to be fair but the biggest notes on his resume are a spell in the G League and an internship with the LA Clippers. Neither are fit to lace Brown’s sneakers – no offence intended.
Brown made his move into coaching at the youthful age of just 27; that saw him join the Golden State Warriors as associate coach and, with the exception of his role with Nigeria, his entire pro coaching career has been spent in the NBA.
Whilst with the San Antonio Spurs – his second job – he helped the team to the NBA Championship; that is something he’s achieved three times in his career with subsequent wins coming in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018 with the Golden State Warriors (that’s right he’s back with them).
Despite playing a role in those successes as associate coach, Brown’s biggest example of what he can bring to Nigeria came as a head coach; that’s a role he’s held for two sides – the Cleveland Cavaliers (twice) and the LA Lakers. It was with the former where he enjoyed most recognition.
The Championship escaped their grasp but a franchise record regular season haul of 66 wins saw Brown named coach of the year in 2009.
A star-studded roster
Much like with Mike Brown as coach, Nigeria also has the best roster they’ve ever had heading into an Olympic Games. The NBA is the elite of basketball; that’s undeniable.
Well, back at London 2012 only Al-Farouq Aminu was playing in it; albeit Ike Diogu hadn’t long moved on after ultimately failing to cut it and Olumide Oyedeji, who was one of the tallest players in the roster at 6’11, spent a few seasons in the league a decade or so earlier (check out how he compared to the tallest players in NBA history: https://edge.twinspires.com/nba/top-10-tallest-players-in-nba-history/).
By 2016 Aminu and Oyedeji were out of the picture; Diogu, however, was still about. He was joined by a couple of other noteworthy names. Ben Uzoh had spent time in the NBA whilst then college boy Michael Gbinije went on to have a brief flirtation with the Detroit Pistons.
As you can see, the squad wasn’t littered with people playing at the top of their sport. This time round they’ve got several players who ply their trade in the NBA donning their jerseys.
Brown announced a 16-player deep camp recently with the games against the US, Australia and Argentina in mind. Half of those players involved are active in the NBA with another two having played in the league; that’s a vast amount of experience compared to previous teams Nigeria have delivered.
Of those players, Josh Okogie and Precious Achiuwa are probably the standout names. Timberwolves man Okogie posted game averages of 5.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists whilst Miami Heat power forward Achiuwa achieved averages of 5.0 points and 3.4 points across the last campaign.
There you have it, a quick look at what Nigeria have going for them at the Olympic Games. They’re far from nailed on for a medal finish but as dark horses go, they are right up there.