Iroegbu brothers excited to continue Nigerian sibling tradition
MONASTIR (Tunisia) - Playing with your sibling on the same national team is among the most fulfilling things for any household and for the Iroegbu brothers, this is an incredibly historic moment for them that they will cherish forever.
Ikenna and Uche Iroegbu walk with a swagger and carry an air of confidence with them whether they are going to have a meal in the restaurant within the bubble in Monastir or joining their teammates in the lineup on court as they prepare to sing the Nigerian anthem before the start of games.
That self-confidence is their expression of a rewarding feeling for all the hard work over the years for them to get this far but more importantly the discipline that got them here is what speaks volumes of their success.
"IT IS THE FIRST TIME FOR ME THAT THE FIRST LETTER OF MY FIRST NAME COMES BEFORE MY SURNAME WHICH IS KIND OF WEIRD BUT TO SEE MY FAMILY MEMBER PLAYING ON THE SAME TEAM WITH ME IS CREDIT TO MY PARENTS BECAUSE THEY WORKED EXTREMELY HARD."
FIBA.basketball caught up with the Iroegbu brothers for an exclusive interview where they highlighted the satisfaction of coming this far. Ikenna, who was born in 1995, is a year older than Uche.
"It is great to see him finally playing on the national team because he works so hard and I see it day in, day out working on court so seeing him making his debut here in Monastir and for me to be alongside him is just incredible," Ikenna who is commonly known as Ike said about Uche.
He continued that, "It is the first time for me that the first letter of my first name comes before my surname which is kind of weird but to see my family member playing on the same team with me is credit to my parents because they worked extremely hard to just provide for me and my brothers a better life and to be able to bring that to basketball and to represent the whole country means a lot to us."
Ike played at the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in Tunisia inspiring D'Tigers to the final and has been a core member of the team ever since and Uche wants to follow that path and stay on the team.
Uche revealed that, "It was a great experience. When you are on court and as soon as you taste the ball, your mind just settles down and you just play basketball. When I am in the game, I am a competitor and when I see my brother, I just feel like I have to play as hard as I can."
Uche made his debut against South Sudan on Wednesday
Both Iroegbu brothers are point guards but Ike can play as a shooting guard as well and this arrangement is one that worked for them at this tournament in Monastir.
Nigeria head coach for this February window Mfon Udofia told FIBA.basketball that, "We did not get an opportunity to play them in the first game but in the second one, I wanted to put them in the game at the right time and they played really well. Ike is Ike. He is fast, he can guard, he can score."
"His little brother [Uche], this is my first time I am coaching him. He is unbelievable. He played really well for us. He came on in the game and gave us a tonne of energy. He made shots and ran offense well."
Uche accumulated 45 minutes of playing time in the tournament and averaged 5.3 points, two rebounds and two assists in three games and according to Udofia, his defense was commendable.
"For a split second, I thought about it because we talked about it. It is cool to see him on court and to think that wow, that is incredible. We are on court together. It is another level so when he checked in, I kind of winked at him and I was like this is our time, this is our moment," Uche said with a glee on his face.
He continued, "We know each other's game inside and out. I am only going to make him look better and he knows mine. That is part of the reason why we get so excited to be on court together."
An incident happened during Nigeria's game against Mali where Ike was fouled and while he took a few seconds to recover, Uche ran to his side to see what had happened in sheer display of brotherly love.
"We work out everyday together and so when he fell down, it was a natural instinct. I cannot control it. I just ran to him to go see if he is okay. I would do the same for my all my teammates but when it is your brother, brother, it is just instinctual. I am not surprised that I did that."
"Once you go back to the hotel and have those down moments, you just remember that, I am representing my country and my brother is here and we are both representing our country and our family. It is a great experience. When I am in the game, I just want to impact the game in the best way that I can and try to give my teammates great energy," Uche said.
When they got the news that they would both play for Nigeria, it was a celebration moment for their family and a reminder of how far they have come and how far they want to go.
Ike said, "We talked about it growing up that we wanted to play for Nigeria but we just did not know how it will come about because when we were younger in the United States, we saw Team USA every year but we did not know that Nigeria had a national team."
"But when we got older, we got to find out that Nigeria actually had a national team. We then started saying that we want to play for Nigeria but we did not know that it would happen so it is good that it turned out like this. It is a blessing."
View this post on Instagram
Both Ike and Uche want to inspire young Nigerian children back home and across the world that impossible is nothing and that they can achieve their dreams however big they are.
"It crosses my mind when I am playing, I always want to be a positive influence whether it is in the US or back home in Nigeria or anywhere across the world because Nigerians are everywhere. As soon as you step out of your comfort zone, you learn that we are everywhere. For anyone out there looking up to me, I always want to put my foot forward."
Ike was named among the Tournament Top Five at AfroBasket 2017
The extended Ireogbu family watches every game involving Ike and Uche and that motivates and inspires them to always do their best.
"Our parents always call after every game. They watch every game so both of us on the same team and for Nigeria, the whole family were watching that and they called us immediately after the game super excited and smiling. It was just an incredible experience for the whole family," Uche said.
The Iroegbu brothers follow in the footsteps of the Aminu brothers - Al Farouq and Alade who played for Nigeria at the FIBA AfroBasket 2015.
If Udofia's praise of the Iroegbu brothers is anything to go by then this is not the last time that we shall see them on court at the same time.
Nigeria have qualified for the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 set to take place in Rwanda from August 24 to September 5 after featuring at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics from July 23 to August 8.