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26 July
08 August, 2021
9 Aisha Mohammed (NGR), 21 Atonye Nyingifa (NGR)
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The long process of Nigeria's success explained - Adaora Elonu

LAGOS (Nigeria) - Nigeria have not lost a game in Africa since they claimed a third-place finish at FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2015 in Cameroon.

In the process, they won two consecutive African Championships in 2017 and 2019, and they clinched their spot in the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 in Belgrade thanks to a 2-0 mark in the FIBA Women's Olympic Pre-Qualifying African Tournament in Maputo.

The Nigerians have an active 16-0 winning streak on the continent of Africa.

On the world stage, the Tigresses are 5-7 following spirited appearances in the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2016, FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018 and the also the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.

Fast forward to 2020, and one of the few members of the 2015 Tigresses team, who witnessed it all on the court over the last five years, is small forward Adaora Elonu. 

Adaora Elonu seen in action at FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018

As Nigeria return to the Olympics for the first time since 2004, FIBA.basketball caught up with Elonu, who detailed what's behind such an impressive run of good results not only in Africa, but also at world stage competitions.

You first played for the Nigerian national team at AfroBasket 2015 in Cameroon. Is it correct to define 2015 as a turning point for your national team, considering the success that followed?

I think 2015 was a small piece of the turning point of the Nigerian national team. Nigeria was always a very good team with great players. After that tournament in Cameroon, we had the Olympic qualifiers which gave us a different world platform. The 2015 team was expected to do great things and we showed a lot of potential which we tried to maintain and better the following years.

Adaora Elonu (second from left) was one of the highlights at FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2015

Nigeria last lost a game on the continent of Africa precisely in 2015 in Yaounde. What's been the secret for such success?

The quality of players have played a huge part in the success of Nigeria's women's basketball team. Many great players have competed and made the team one to take notice of. Players like Mfon Udoka and Mactabene Amachree who had great careers and experience helped make Nigeria basketball a strong team, as well as helping in administrative roles afterwards.

It gave the team and players a sense of what was needed to continue and improve the success of the program. Also other veterans and ex-players like Joyce [Ekworomadu], Olayinka [Sanni], Chioma [Udeaja], and Ndidi [Madu] have been instrumental in its continued growth with their talents as well as leadership and informing us on what is to be expected and the battles and trials they experienced while competing for Nigeria.

There is not just one secret to the success of the basketball program, it is a combination of dedication, will power, pride, talent and grit. It is necessary to have all of the above, it is not easy competing for Nigeria and the players who have competed and will compete for Nigeria need to have these components. That goes for the staff as well, as we cannot do much without our coaches, medical team, and administrators, they too are major pieces of the successes Nigeria has had. 

How can Nigerian domestic basketball and future generations benefit from the success of this current national team?

As we continue to show success in competitions, it can help bring forth a spotlight for the sport domestically and encourage players and organizations to develop programs that will give interested players a stronger opportunity to develop and hopefully migrate into the future of the national team.

With added attention comes interest and it is a great chance for Nigeria to grow the sport and create a space that will be lasting for future generations.

It is upon our leaders to continuously encourage and provide resources for players to develop. Investing domestically is important to maintain interest and success within Nigeria. NBBF has spoken at length about investing domestically in the leagues and I am hopeful that with time, more progress will be made and the future generations will reap the rewards that the successes have brought about.

Although you have been playing most of your professional career in Europe, you briefly played for Angolan club Primeiro D'Agosto. Tell us more about the experience of playing for a club in Africa.

D'Agosto was my first African club experience. It was a pleasant experience that I'm very glad I took advantage of when I did. Sarah Ogoke and Ndidi Madu have both played in Angola and they discussed with me their experiences so I knew what to expect. Their style was easy to adapt to, since playing in AfroBasket and against Angola a few times, it was similar, they are very skilled and physical.

There were other foreigners in the league, from the United States and other African countries, similar to European leagues. The entire organization of Primeiro D'Agosto was welcoming and professional, and it was nice being able to relate with them personally and on the same team, rather than opponents.

Obviously, none expected the repercussions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in a year that would mark the return of Nigeria to the Olympics. What's your view on the postponement of what could have been your Olympics debut? 

At the time the pandemic was basically present all over the world, it was a waiting period of what will happen with the Olympic Games. Will they be cancelled, rescheduled? Once the [Olympic] Committee decided to postpone the games, it was a sign that our Olympic dreams can still be made possible.

The Olympics is a big deal for my team, and will be a first for all of the players except one, Aisha Balabare. We are still anxiously awaiting our debuts and are very hopefully that it will happen safely at the new appointed date. Once the moment arrives for Tokyo 2020, we will be ready and will experience a moment that surely we will never forget. Especially the return of the women's basketball team after some close calls at qualifying. It will be a special moment to have both the men and women represent Nigeria on a grand stage in the Olympics.

Having played at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup two years ago, and faced some bigger and higher-ranked teams, what is the Nigerian team's mentality heading to Tokyo ?

The same mentality. Compete and win. We don't have any other mindset besides competing and winning, and sprinkling in some fun and enjoyment. The Olympics will be an experience that we want to take in, while playing D'Tigress basketball and enjoying our hard work and commitment.