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Olumide Oyedeji cautions NBBF against bringing ‘mercenaries’ into national teams

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D’Tigers of Nigeria are among the top-rated teams billed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. PHOTO: AFP.

• Advocates more opportunities for home-based players
Nigeria is one of the fastest rising nations in world basketball. Two years ago, the country became the first African country to get to the quarterfinals of the Women World Cup, while last year, the men’s team put up a fantastic performance at the World Cup in China, a feat that earned them automatic ticket to the now postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Nigeria is the only African country that will feature two teams at the Olympics when it holds after the current COVID-19 crisis. But the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) doesn’t want to go to Tokyo to make up the numbers as many other African countries had done in the past.

The country wants to get to the medals zone at the Olympics and to achieve that; the federation recently announced its willingness to bring in more foreign-based players into the squad.

Some of the players touted for the men’s national team when they reconvene are Brooklyn Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie, Victor Oladipo, Bam Adebayo, OG Anunoby and Jahlil Okafor.

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However, former national team captain, Olumide Oyedeji has different opinion on the NBBF’s quest to fortify the team.

Oyedeji, a veteran of the Olympics (he featured in the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 editions), believes that bringing in players with little or no allegiance to the country could be counterproductive.

While all the others have Nigerian roots, Dinwiddie reportedly has no links to Nigeria either through birth or heritage.

Oyedeji told The Guardian that it could be dangerous to entrust players with national team duties if their motivation is selfish.

He said a player of Dinwiddie’s quality could help build a formidable team for Nigeria and the country’s basketball if his motivation is altruistic. He added, however, that the NBBF should screen overseas-based players carefully, adding that the country needs patriotic players to excel at the games.

“I don’t have anything against the NBBF’s decision to open doors for players in the NBA and other leagues abroad to play for D’Tigers.

“There are laid down rules of eligibility, which a player must meet before he can feature for a national team.

“When I first had the opportunity to play for the D’Tigers as a young Nigerian, wearing the green jersey with Nigeria inscribed on it was a great inspiration and motivation to me. Playing for Nigeria comes with great feelings of joy and respect. The true Nigerian spirit of maturity, tenacity and pursuit for honour and glory no matter the odds was in me.

“When singing the national anthem, my desire to go all out to give my best and put smiles on the faces of Nigerians back home was always at the back of my mind. I felt on top of the world seeing the green and white flag when singing the national anthem.

“These are attributes a true Nigerian must possess. The question is, do all these top players interested in playing for D’Tigers at the Olympics possess these qualities?

“If the NBBF is building a national team beyond the Olympics, the body should ensure they bring in players that are ready to remain in the national team in good and hard times to help develop the team.

“Some of these players did not grow in Nigeria. Some also want to nationalise in a country they have not visited before and know nothing about. These players should also be asked if they would be ready to come to Nigeria and contribute their quota to the development of the game at the grassroots and also bear the pressure, as true Nigerians will face representing the country.

He said the country would have gained nothing if the players were only interested in playing at the Olympics after which they would never contribute anything to game’s growth, adding, ‘any player that announces that he wants to play for a different country when his first country of choice disappointed him is coming for business or to raise his profile.

“If some of these players are rushing to play for Nigeria because of the Olympics, they will abandon the team after the championship.

“The NBBF must look for players that have true passion for the country.

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The players must imbibe the Nigerian spirit to play for D’Tigers.”

Oyedeji admitted that home-based players do not have the capacity to compete with overseas-based stars in the D’Tigers, positing that the leadership tussle in the federation has placed home-based players redundant in a disadvantaged position.

“The disruption of the local leagues is killing the development of the domestic players, but I think the national team coach should pick a few of these home-based players to join the overseas-based stars to the Olympics so they can learn and also come back to impact what they learnt to their mates.

“It is not right to list players for a national assignment without including any player from the domestic scene. It is an embarrassing situation for the country.

“I was discovered here in Nigeria before being invited to the national team in1997.

“I attended the World University Games and spent 20 years with D’Tigers. If I was not given such opportunity, I will not be where I am today.

“There are still more talented Olumide Oyedejis in Nigeria,” he said.

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