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Festus Ezeli (NGR)
31/03/2015
News
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Ezeli gives thumbs-up to Nigeria for AfroBasket 2015

OAKLAND (NBA/AfroBasket2015) - Nigerian-Americans have played a key role in the recent history of the African nation's basketball history, and that trend may continue this summer when the D'Tigers participate in AfroBasket 2015 taking place in Tunisia from 19 to 30 August.

Nigeria secured qualification for the tournament - a qualifier for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics - after beating Burkina Faso in a two-game qualifier last week.

At the 2012 Olympics, nine out of the 12 players on Nigeria's roster were born in the USA to Nigerian families, while Tony Skinn, Ejike Ugboaja and Olumide Oyedeji were the only natives of Nigeria.

Al-Farouq Aminu of the Dallas Mavericks, former Los Angeles Clippers Ike Diogu and and Ime Udoka - currently in his third season as an assistant coach for the reigning NBA champions San Antonio Spurs - were all crucial for the Nigerians in recent international tournaments.

Clippers forward Ekpe Udo has Nigerians roots, but is yet to wear the green jersey, while Andre Iguodala has represented the USA internationally.

The list of Nigerian-American who can be selected to represent the African country is almost endless. Ahead of the London Games, Nigeria guard Ade Dagunduro, in a interview with FIBA.com, said: "There are more than 200 million people of Nigeria origin who could be picked for the team."

It turns out, one of those players who could suit up for Nigeria is Golden State Warriors big man Festus Ezeli, the only Nigerian-born playing in the NBA this season.

The 25-year-old only started playing organised basketball eight years ago. Following a solid career at Vanderbilt University, he was selected with the 30th pick by Golden State in the 2012 Draft.

The 2.11m center, who had a career-high 15 points against the Sacramento Kings on 22 December, is open to representing Nigeria in Tunisia this summer.

"It is a big honour to be playing for your country and I am looking forward to it," he said FIBA.com.

"I have a lot of pride in my origins. I think that it is awesome that we have so many guys of Nigerian descent in the NBA.

"I am trying to get Andre Iguodala to come to Nigeria with me someday. It is a great place, a great country and it has a lot of potential.

"I don't know Al-Farouq Aminu personally but I know that he plays for the Nigerian national team. I'm looking forward to get to know him and all my other Nigerian brothers who play basketball.

Hopefully, I will play for the national team soon. - Ezeli

Festus missed the entire 2013-14 NBA season due to a knee injury.

He is back in action now, averaging 3.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game for the Warriors who clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.

"For my role on the team, it is mainly on the defensive end," he explained.

"I love this team. Number one, our chemistry is great. We have a lot of great guys and all of us are committed to winning.

"Our guys work hard, we all support each other and we are very talented. I am blessed to be part of this team.

"The goal is to play our best basketball by April and whenever comes after that. We just want to be the best team that we can be going to the playoffs, that what is our main goal for now."

Meanwhile, Nigeria head coach Sani Ahmed recently hinted at expressing interest in inviting Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo and Thanasis Antetokoumpo of the D-League's Westchester Knicks but said: "The problem is that the insurance you pay when you want to get these NBA players is very high."

FIBA