12 Michael Gbinije (NGR)
Julio Chitunda's African Message
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Gbinije opens up about future with African champions Nigeria

SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - For players like Ike Diogu, Chamberlain Oguchi, Shane Lawal and brothers Al-Farouq and Alade Aminu - just to mention a few - representing Nigeria on the international stage seems to mean the world.

For Michael Gbinije, however, it's a completely different story.

"It's hard for me to play for a country I've never really been to, and especially the way the Olympics went." - Gbinije

Remember when Diogu got injured just a few days before FIBA AfroBasket 2015?

Diogu (left) supported his team from the bench

Rather than go home, Diogu - often hailed for his leadership on and off the court - inspired the team from the sidelines in Rades, on the outskirts of the Tunisian capital Tunis. Eventually, Nigeria lifted their first ever African title.

Last summer, Lawal's Olympic adventure was limited to just three minutes on the court after getting hurt at the start of the D'Tigers' very first game against Argentina.

He had to leave the team and reportedly returned to Barcelona to be checked out by his club and to have an operation. He later rejoined his national team in Rio.

Diogu told the media at the time: "He [Lawal] had surgery on his knee so we played for him. That's pretty much what we play for right now. It's just pride, playing for our fallen brother."

Back in 2013, Oguchi travelled with the team to Abidjan, but administrative issues prevented him from playing at the FIBA AfroBasket. He too stayed with the team.

In a recent interview with FIBA.com, he gave his perspective on playing for Nigeria.

"Having been a member of the Nigerian senior men's national team since 2005, it has been instrumental in my development as a player and person," Oguchi explained. "Aside from allowing me a world platform to display my talents, playing for D'Tigers has given me a sense of national pride that I never knew I possessed. To be able to represent your forefathers is a special honour, and the brotherhood established along the way is priceless."

Well, as I mentioned early in this column, Gbinije - whose father is a native of Nigeria - seems to be finding hard to play for the African champions even though he was key to their continental success in Tunisia.

After playing in the NCAA Final Four for Syracuse last April and being drafted by the Detroit Pistons two months later, the 2.01m forward was set to complete a perfect 2016 by making his Olympic debut in Rio.

However, Nigeria won one of their five games in Rio, and Gbinije had enough. 

When my fellow FIBA columnist Steve Goldberg asked Gbinije if he was looking towards participating in this year's FIBA AfroBasket in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, the 24-year-old replied: "Not at all, I finished playing with the Nigerian team."

Goldberg asked Gbinije to elaborate on his response.

"It's hard for me to play for a country I've never really been to, and especially the way the Olympics went. I wasn't really happy with it. I am just not looking forward to joining the team. But anything can change… They might persuade me to join if we are qualified again [Tokyo Olympics]."

What were the issues?

"It was just the organisation. It's hard to get stuff done, and the country itself wasn’t really helpful to us. Everything - travel - was provided by us alone," he revealed. "It's hard to get stuff done, and you compete against other countries and team a lot of with organisation, and we really didn't have that."

Gbinije's remarks shouldn't be overlooked, especially after the team's head coach Will Voigt called on more support for the team.

Julio Chitunda


FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

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Julio Chitunda

Julio Chitunda

Julio Chitunda, a University of Sheffield alumni and former semi-professional player, has worked for a number of Portuguese media outlets as well as The Press Association and covered international basketball for over a decade. Through his column, he offers an insight into basketball on the world's second biggest continent.