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Ban on international basketball could cost Nigerians scholarship opportunities, says Udezue 

By Alex Monye
14 June 2022   |   2:41 am
Chairman of Anambra State Basketball Association and CEO of AFA Sports, Ugo Udezue, is worried that the Federal Government’s decision to withdraw the country from international basketball

AFA CEO, Ugo Udezue.<br />

Chairman of Anambra State Basketball Association and CEO of AFA Sports, Ugo Udezue, is worried that the Federal Government’s decision to withdraw the country from international basketball will affect the youth mostly.

Lamenting that the ban could scuttle youths’ aspiration for international educational scholarships, especially in the United States, Udezue said it would be difficult for other top basketball countries to channel their resources to groom outstanding youngsters from the country due to the ban.

He said the two-year absence from international basketball would have a ripple effect on the country even after the exit of the present Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, because Nigeria, which is Africa’s current number one nation, would lose its status due to inactivity.

“I am a typical example of the Nigerian basketball programme. I played for the junior and senior national teams, which offered me the exposure to travel to the U.S. on a basketball scholarship to complete my education at the University of Wyoming. 

“I became an accomplished sports agent, representing top NBA players globally. After many years abroad, I came back in 2015 and co-founded the African Basketball League provided the template for what is now called BAL, which is Basketball Africa League. It is now a billion-dollar business.

“Will any Nigerian youth with this two-year ban have the privilege to accomplish these achievements and benefits if the ban still continues for long?

“I made tremendous personal and financial sacrifices to develop basketball in Nigeria through ABL. The same people that claim to love basketball so much were the same people that banned such a wonderful venture. These same people that now claim to have the best interest of Nigerian basketball did not raise a finger when the TJ Umar-led Nigeria Basketball Federation called our sponsors and threatened them to pull sponsorships from the ABL.

“I ended up owing players because of the actions of the NBBF leadership at that time. The person that saved the ABL that season was Musa Kida (current NBBF president) and I had never met him before then. He made sure we were able to pay players and finished the season because he liked what we were doing,” he said.

According to Udezue: “ABL would have been a viable tool to take Nigerian youths off the streets today to earn a living through basketball.

“I definitely did not want to sit in my home in U.S. and complain about Nigerian basketball. I did what I had to do to create something special; a sustainable equity-driven ecosystem for basketball excellence in Nigeria. Till today, there has been no tangible reason why they banned ABL. No one has said a word. 

“I don’t know what my life would have been if I was a kid today playing basketball and the Nigerian government suspends itself from international competitions. I would have definitely lost the opportunity of a U.S. college education, the African Basketball League would not have happened and definitely, there will be no AFASPORTS today. This is only a tip of the iceberg of the consequences of the suspension of Nigeria from international basketball by its Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare.”

He dismissed the narrative that withdrawal from international basketball is the best way to resolve issues in the sport, adding that the plan to withdraw the country from international basketball was carefully planned by some people who were looking for means to control the sport.

“There were threats and statements made by the same ‘lovers’ of basketball as far back as last year. The players were warned about the plan to withdraw Nigeria from the international game and it had nothing to do with growing basketball.

“It was all about getting control of the national purse dedicated to basketball and how to ravage the sport.

“Nigerian basketball has the potential, in terms of opportunities for sports enterprise, but everyone is focused on the low hanging fruit of government budget.”

Udezue also believes basketball can fund its activities without relying on government money.

He added: “Before we started ABL, they told us no one will pay for tickets to watch a game of basketball in Nigeria. In 2015, we were selling front row seats for N25, 000. They told us no one would buy a Nigerian sports brand. Today, we have three stores and ship to over 15 countries.

“The basketball talent is endless in this country. They are capable of signing good contracts and attracting sponsors to help develop basketball in the country.”

Udezue dismissed the claims that the ban was to resolve the crisis in Nigerian basketball. He said: “There are no factions in Nigerian basketball. If you really believe there are factions, go to the states, the zones, from Enugu to Kano to Akure and ask the grassroots, who they voted for during the NBBF elections.

“I am the chairman of Anambra State basketball. Please go to my local government, my state chairman of sports, Director of Sports, who they voted for and appointed to lead the state’s basketball. I was also voted by four out of five states in the southeast to represent them on the NBBF board. I was not appointed… I was given a mandate by the Southeast people.

“This is a time to come together more than ever. These are dark times, not just in basketball, but in our country as a whole. I plan to vote for the first time ever in our next election. I have stood in the lines twice for hours under the scorching sun trying to get my PVC. I will definitely succeed in that too and we will change Nigeria for the better.

“The pain that will be inflicted on Nigerian basketball by this suspension will last much longer after this Minister of Sports. Our goal will be to insulate basketball from a repeat of such challenges again.”