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First Bank – New champions of Nigerian basketball!


First-Bank-Basketball-Club…we-are-winnersThere are several things on my mind this week. The first, of course, is the victory last Thursday night of the Elephant Girls, First Bank women’s basketball team that I manage.

On that night, the team reclaimed the title of Nigerian female national basketball league champion that it lost rather tamely last year in the final match to the same Wale Aboderin’s Dolphins.

This time around it was clear from the onset of the match that things were different with the First Bank team. The energy, the determination, the fighting spirit, the focused tactical strategy, all were on full display as the Elephant Girls shot into the lead with the very first basket and never looked back until the end.

It was a physically drenching match dominated almost completely, by First Bank, just as it has done throughout the entire season, not losing a single match and winning matches with bewildering score lines as evidence of their vast superiority.

Dolphins could not match the power and speed of the Elephant Girls and even their determined late rally that saw them reduce the almost 30 points deficit by the end of the third quarter to just 11 with 38 seconds left to play (a very long time in the game of basketball) was more to save face than to turn the tables and defeat First Bank.

The difference between them was daylight-clear.

This season, none of the other Nigerian teams came close to the high technical level First Bank attained.

First Bank had set the high goal of chasing the African title that is dominated by the Angolans and Mozambicans. Preparing for this set them apart from the rest of the Nigerian opposition en route to the final match last Thursday night. Dolphins were good competition but were no match.

The recent surge in the standard and followership of Nigerian basketball makes the sport second only to football as the fastest growing sport in Nigeria.

Under the leadership of Tijani Umar, undoubtedly the most successful and most visionary president of the basketball federation, in the almost eight years of his tenure, the game of basketball has soared to new and impressive heights.

First Bank Basketball Club is riding on the back of this to eye the African Women’s club championship title this season.

They know it will take sweat, tears and blood to climb this huge mountain, with the much higher technical level of domestic basketball in Angola and Mozambique, and the very professional attitudes and management capabilities of North African clubs in Tunisia and Algeria, but they are determined to go for it nevertheless.

The African club championships will, however, go on a short break and take a back seat until after the Olympic qualifiers, as well as the Olympic Games starting in August.

Meanwhile, First Bank Female Basketball Club will enjoy their day in the sun of Nigerian basketball and continue to celebrate this well-deserved victory for the next few months.

I hail the new champions of women’s basketball in Nigeria!
The EPL And Its Coaches On The Sidelines!
It is time to start an audit of the dying season. One issue that dominated this particular season is that of the coaches. That issue will also play a very significant role in determining what happens next season.

Two stories stand out though.
The first is that of Jose Mourinho, and the second, that of Claudio Raneiri.

The ‘Special One’ was doing very well until he became arrogant. He embarrassed and humiliated an innocent female staff without just cause and became a victim of the curse of a scorned woman. His life has not been the same ever since. Not only has he been jobless since he was sacked months ago, the promise of a future role as manager of Manchester United FC at the end of the season still hangs in the balance.

Jose’s story is, of course, linked to that of Luis Van Gaal, the man that came in with glowing credentials to replicate the achievements of Sir Alex Ferguson.

By failing to lift the team and the spirit of Van Gaal has looked dull and unhappy throughout the season making Man U fans to seek something more exciting and more esoteric in a Jose Mourinho.

Distracted by Jose’s waiting in the wings no one seems to know what the final script in this drama will be.

In 2016/2017 all eyes will be on Claudio Raneiri. Leicester City’s achievement may be a fairytale, but it is authentically well earned through performances on the field of play that would require deciphering by other teams next season.  The team’s success is mostly the product of excellent coaching and player-management, the handiwork of Claudio, who is blossoming and reaping the fruits of a life of hard work at a ripe age.

The whole world of football is waiting and watching to see how Raneiri will sustain what he has introduced into the EPL through Leicester City next season – that money is not everything in football.

Manuel Pellegrini’s story in Manchester City is of a different kind. Tipped as potential winners of the league at the start of the season because of the apparent depth and caliber of players in the team, and as a past champion only a season before, the team was on course to win it at the early part of the season when out of the blues came the shocking announcement of a replacement for Pellegrini at the end of the season. It is totally unheard of to announce the sack of a winning coach in the middle of the season.

Of course, Manchester City started to pay the price almost immediately. On the eve of the final match in the season the team may have dropped out of qualifying for Europe next season. By the time you are reading this that answer may have been provided.

But the interesting question is this: would Pep Guardiola, one of the greatest coaches of the present era, with his stature and huge reputation, who was announced as Pellegrini’s replacement, be willing to coach a team that will not be playing in Europe next season? Would he accept to have his fate and reputation tied to challenging for the EPL only?
That would be really interesting.

Jurgen Klopp is a coach that caught everyone’s eye with his enthusiasm, spirit and energy. In terms of commitment to winning there is little to choose between him and Diego Simeone, the man at Atletico Madrid that has captivated the world with his ability to drive players to extreme performances.

Jurgen and Simone are from the same stock – the authentic twelfth player in their teams. The only thing they do not do is to join the players in kicking the ball on the field.

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