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29/06/2021
Julio Chitunda's African Message
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Nigeria Men's team at Tokyo Olympics - If not now, when?

LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - "Nigeria is the only African team – if well prepared – with the highest potential to produce positive results on the biggest stage."

The statement above wasn't made by a boasting Nigerian fan nor by a Nigerian basketball enthusiast. Instead, it was proclaimed by Angolan Victorino Cunha, the man who coached his country to three straight FIBA AfroBasket titles dating back to 1989.

Angola had just defeated Egypt to clinch its last FIBA AfroBasket title in 2013 at Palais des Sports de Treichville in Abidjan when Cunha made this assertion of the star-studded Nigerian team that had crashed out in the quarterfinals against Senegal, and, as a result, delayed its much sought-after first AfroBasket title for another two years.

Fast forward to 2021, and Nigeria head coach Mike Brown told the UNDEFEATED: "The talent is there. It's just about getting everybody organized and on the same page and getting everybody excited about playing and wanting to be a part."

Indeed, things are looking promising for D'Tigers who opened their training camp in Oakland, California a month before of their Tokyo 2020 opener against Australia on July 25.

Nigeria will complete their Group B action up against the winners of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) in Split, Croatia and Belgrade, Serbia.

The West African nation has a wealth of talent to draw from in the American college ranks and has countless options to consider as they go into Tokyo.  

Nigeria's 49-man preliminary squad includes current and former NBA players, top college basketball prospects and a number of players plying their trade around the world.

With so much talent at D'Tigers' disposal and a NBA champion head coach in Mike Brown, expectations are high around the former African champions. 

 

The Nigerians have never hidden their intentions of becoming the first African team to reach the Olympics knock-out stages and compete for a medal.

The inevitable question now is "If not now, when then?"

Here are a few reasons that keep Nigeria optimistic for Tokyo 2020:

- Nigeria isn't new to the Olympics. It's it this third straight appearance in the tournament. They know what to expect;

- Ike Diogu and Al Farouq Aminu - two key members of the Nigerian team that shocked the basketball world at the 2012 OQT in Caracas - have been invited to the preliminary squad;

 - Nigeria has beaten high-ranked teams before, including Serbia & Montenegro (World Cup 2006); Greece and Lithuania (2012 OQT in Caracas) and Croatia (2016 Rio Olympics);

- Brown has noted that the OQT is "going to be pretty competitive for the other African countries [Angola and Tunisia] to try to make it to the Olympics. We look at ourselves as representing all of Africa";

- Argentina - a team that has defeated Nigeria five times in as many meetings at Olympics and FIBA Basketball World Cup games - is drawn in Group C; 

Argentina has given Nigeria headaches over the years. The South Americans are drawn in Group C at Tokyo 2020

- The reigning Olympics champions USA - who set an Olympics record for the largest winning-margin after trouncing Nigeria 156-73 at 2012 London Games - are in Group A;

- Nigeria has at least two EXCELLENT players at each position.

However, the question that Brown needs to answer is if he will be capable of BUILDING a competitive team in four weeks.

Former Nigeria head coaches Ayodele Bakare and Will Voigt had talented players at London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016, but somehow, things didn't work out. 

Again, if not now, when then?

Julio Chitunda
FIBA

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.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

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.