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With FIBA U16 Afrobasket boys, the future looks bright

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Nigerian team at FIBA U-16 African Championship. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIABASKET

It has been acknowledged by followers of basketball that Nigeria has the potential to compete favourably with the best countries in the game given its abundant youth population. With a youth population estimated to be over 100 million, the country is seen as a talent deposit yet to be mined to the fullest.

That was aptly demonstrated recently by the nation’s U-16 team, which took part in the just concluded FIBA Africa U16 Championship in Praia, Cape Verde.

The hurriedly assembled team finished third behind Egypt and Mali.

The team of 11 boys had just two days of light training at the indoor sports hall of the National Stadium Lagos, with assistant coach, Tony Nelson. They only got to meet their head coach, Fubara Onyanabo at the Murtala International Airport on the day of their departure for the competition. They played their first game on the second day after their arrival in Praia against three-time champions, Egypt.

They lost the game, but they were not disgraced.

Prior to the game, three of the boys were also medically screened out of the championship leaving the coach with an eight-man rotation throughout the competition.

Apart from not having the best of preparation, the team was not prepared for the long trip they encountered. None of the boys had previously had an international traveling experience and their first time was a flight from Lagos to Nairobi, which took over five hours, another connecting flight to Dakar that took about seven hours with a stopover at Bamako included. 

Another four-hour wait in Dakar before the team were finally airlifted to Praia on a flight that lasted about an hour 15 minutes arriving Cape Verde some minutes past 10.00 p.m. local time, and past 12.00 a.m. Nigerian time on the day of their opening game against Egypt.

They had a few hours of sleep, a breakfast the boys were unused to and about 20 minutes late for their first practice with the head coach almost spelled doom for them.

Bormini Dennis, the team’s point guard, who was selected to be the team captain, resumed his position with the shortest notice as they faced an uphill task against an Egyptian team that had been off and on in camp for over seven months. 

But the boys were not daunted. They took a shock 21-13 lead heading out of the first quarter, leaving many believing that the boys would pull a famous win. But fatigue, inexperience and lack of proper understanding robbed them of what would have been a win enabled by the famous “Nigerian spirit,” The game ended 86-77 in favour of the North Africans.

The team after the loss must have signed a pack, as they bounced back smoking winning their next three group games, starting with a 64- 39 demolition of hosts, Cape Verde, and also trashing former champions Angola, 90-57.

The team’s final group game ended 75-64 against Algeria, with the outcome and overall game performance revealing that the boys were either getting too confident or fatigue was creeping into the team. 

The boys once again showed class and resilience in their quarterfinal game against Tunisia, beating their opponent by a massive 50-point gap, 86-36 to progress to the semifinal where they faced defending champions, Mali.

The game against Mali was always going to be difficult as the Malians came into the game unbeaten and as the more physical side. The team might have qualified for the final, as well as picked one of the U17 World Cup tickets scheduled for Sofia in Bulgaria if most of their three-point shots had gone in. But it was a day where almost nothing worked.

The Malians kept the scoreline low, making it a closed one. They outmuscled the Junior D’Tigers to qualify for the final, where they lost to Egypt.

The boys had to show the world they did not travel all the way to Cape Verde for the jamboree, as they fought hard to pip Guinea 54-53 in a highly nervy and entertaining third and fourth classification match.

The result, though a team performance, but a lot must be given to the boys on their individual performance, as it also showed on the statistical table. With a total of 112 rebounds during the competition, Reuben Chinyelu won the award for the best rebounder, Precious Ikpe barely missed out on the best three-pointer award, while Farouk Isah made the top five list of best players at the competition, with captain Bormini Dennis also leading the pack on the assist table.

Thrilled by the performance of his wards, Head Coach, Fubara Onyanabo said, “Nigeria can attend this championship with six different teams and still win it, but it is all based on preparation.”

One can only imagine what the team would have achieved if they had had enough time to prepare and gel for such a tournament.

Speaking on the performance of the team, Adeyinka Adedipe, a journalist, praised the boys for a fantastic outing in their first international contest.

He added: “The Nigeria Basketball Federation must do better when it comes to age-grade competitions, as the future of Nigerian basketball depends on the young ones, the exposure they get and also opportunities availed them through international competitions. 

“Big appreciation must go to the team sponsor, Nestlé Milo, who believed in the boys and decided to expose them to such a life-changing experience in Cape Verde.

“The boys are different now, they have been able to play alongside their peers in Africa, they have interacted with young people, who share the same goal of making basketball career and now, thanks to Milo, they can dream higher.”


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