NBA draft raises hope of bright future for Nigeria’s basketball
Nigeria’s basketball got a very bright peep into the likely future of its already successful senior national men’s team, D’Tigers, as a glut of both Nigerian-born and players of Nigerian descent were selected in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The NBA draft is a process through which elite players in the American University system are selected by teams playing in the National Basketball Association for a chance to earn a living in the NBA League.
In the past, the draft was usually dominated by Europeans and Canadians, with a sprinkling of Africans – usually two or three and mostly from Nigeria, Senegal, and lately Cameroun.
The 2020 class, however, is unique in the fact that of the 30 players selected in the first round, 23 were born in the United States, two were born in Nigeria and one each from France, Israel, Serbia, and Australia; of the 23 born in the United States, four have Nigerian origins, thus bringing the total number of ‘Nigerians’ in the first round to an unprecedented six
There were no Canadians in the first round, which is strange given the fact that the Canadians are neighbours to the United States and they have also developed a strong basketball culture. Toronto Raptors, one of the two expansion franchises that opened in Canada in 1995, won the NBA Championship in 2019 – and became the first Franchise outside the United States to win the title.
The second round also had 30 selected players, and again, 23 players were listed as Americans, while one each was listed from Nigeria, France, Czechoslovakia, Jamaica, Montenegro, Israel, and Italy.
Again, there were no Canadians in the second round, which means that no Canadian-born players were selected.
However, the only listed Nigerian, Jordan Nwora, was actually born in Buffalo, New York; while another Nigerian, Daniel Oturu, is listed as American. Oturu was also born in New York but in Brooklyn.
Out of all these Nigerian players, the pair of Precious Achiuwa and Udoka Azubuike – both of who were selected in the first round, qualify automatically to represent Nigeria because they were born in Nigeria: Achiuwa in Port Harcourt and Azubuike in Lagos. Nwora has already played for D’Tigers.
The other five players, who are listed as Americans because it is the country of their birth, will have to indicate a willingness to switch. Isaac Okoro, who was selected the highest of them all, as he was drafted at Number 5, has already claimed to be “Nigerian” and declared that he is a full-blooded African.
What all this means is that Nigeria’s men’s basketball team, D’Tigers, which already has an embarrassing array of talents to choose from, just got much stronger.
Nigeria is the first African country to qualify both its men’s and women’s teams to the same Olympics. Just last year, the women’s team, D’Tigress, became the first African Team – Male or Female, to win multiple games at a major tournament, when they played all the way to the quarterfinals of the FIBA Women’s World Cup.