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140 basketballers jostle to represent Nigeria at Tokyo Olympics

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African champions, Nigeria, will play at the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.

‘African teams can be world contenders’

Being in the final squad of the men and women’s basketball teams to the biggest international competition in a calendar year is the biggest thing that can happen to a player. And for Nigerian players, it is not easy to break into any of these teams. Reason is that there are so many good players for the coaches to choose from.

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It is still up to six months to the next big competition, the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games, but the players cannot rest on their oars just yet. To be in the Nigerian squad, one must be at his best because there are about 140 players jostling for the few seats on the Tokyo plane.

Yesterday, the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) revealed that the players being considered for the Olympics are 70 men and 70 women for the available 12 spots in each team.

NBBF Vice President, Babs Ogunade, told The Guardian yesterday, that the Federation is trying to ensure that the coaches have enough time and room to look at all the players properly before deciding on the chosen ones.

According to Ogunade, the D’Tigers’ victory at the second phase of the Afrobasket qualifiers in Rwanda has shown that Nigeria has enough materials to excel in the game.

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He added, “The Olympics camp will be opened by next year at different centres around the world, including Europe, America, and Nigeria to enable players to have easy access to the camp when the coaches need them.

“The coaches have already penciled down 70 men and 70 women players that will be screened for the Olympics. You will understand that only 12 players will make it to the championship out of the 70 players in each team, so the coaches are saddled with the responsibility to pick the very best players that are of Nigerian heritage from anywhere in the world.

“As we prepare to open the Olympics camp for men and women teams, you will understand that funds will be a major issue. The NBBF is working round the clock to generate the funds to give the teams the best preparations.

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“The Afrobasket qualifiers was another platform for the coaches to identify some players and the NBBF is delighted that Nigeria excelled in Rwanda, by winning the tournament and remaining unbeaten in the continent.

“The coaches will give their best to ensure D’Tigers keep up the winning spirit in the second phase of the qualifiers next year.”

The first phase of the camping for the teams, according to Ogunade, will hold immediately after the New Year celebrations.

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MEANWHILE, D’Tigers head coach, Mike Brown, believes that if the right things are put in place by African basketball federations, many teams can compete favourably with the best in the world.

Teams have commenced preparations for the third window of the qualifiers to hold from February 19 to 21, 2021 as announced by FIBA on Monday.

Brown, who is on his first-ever assignment in Africa after being contracted by the NBBF to handle the D’Tigers, said there are great African players in the NBA with what he experienced at the just concluded 2021 FIBA Afrobasket qualifiers.

“The game of basketball in Africa is unique from the standpoint that every team you look at possesses the athleticism necessary for the game. Physically, they are there and we have a lot of physically gifted players. When you put all together and try to bring out maximum potential from each of these African teams, it is something that everybody is striving for,” he said.

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With many teams struggling to break into the top 30 in the global ranking except for Nigeria currently ranked 23rd and first in Africa, Brown said once many national federations invest in quality coaches and put the right structure in place, they will definitely improve drastically to become a global force.

“Now, we just have to get a little bit organised, get more coaching, a little more structure and we can compete with the best around the world. Once that is done, I think basketball in Africa is going to improve tremendously.”

Despite D’Tigers’ perfect result with wins against South Sudan, Rwanda, and Mali, topping group B after three games, Brown who also doubles as Golden State Warriors assistant coach, said the results did not reflect the opposition his team faced.

The team will hope to maintain its unbeaten run on the continent when the qualifiers resume.

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