Africa’s premier men’s club competition on the continent, the FIBA Africa Champions Cup have 10-12 qualified teams from the seven zones participating in the club competition. Nigeria finds itself in zone 3 which comprises of Ghana, Togo, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Liberia and Burkina Faso.
Since the inception of the FIBA Africa Champions Cup in 1972, only Ivorian clubs from Zone 3 have won the club competition thrice while Nigerian clubs have finished four times on the podium, with a third place finish their best in those times.
Angolan clubs have dominated the tournament with 11 wins followed by Egyptian and Senegal clubs with 5 apiece. Little wonder that Angolan club Primero de Agosto have claimed the title 8 times and delivered four on the bounce between 2007 and 2010.
Dodan Warriors, Lagos Islanders, Ebun Comets, Kano Pillars, Mark Mentors, Niger Potters, Plateau Peaks, Rivers Hoopers (then Royal Hoopers) and Union Bank are the 9 teams to have represented Nigeria at the FIBA Africa Champions Cup. Out of the 9 clubs, only Kano Pillars have finished twice on the podium, 1985 and 1987.
They fell short in 2016 losing their third place game to the 2017 champions AS Sale of Morocco. Only Lagos Islanders and Dodan Warriors have also finished in third place in 2000 and 2006 respectively.
Big question is, what are Nigerian clubs not doing to achieve similar feat as the clubs from zone 1 (Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco etc) and zone 6 like the Angolans? Despite been ranked number one in Africa, the country is yet to break the dominance of North African teams in club competitions.
After losing to Tunisia in the group stage, the D’Tigers had to overcome them in the final to win their first ever Afrobasket in 2015 but were outclassed by the same Tunisians in the 2017 final. It’s worse in the club competition as the two Nigerian representatives at the 2017 FIBA Africa Champions Cup, Kano Pillars and Gombe Bulls could not beat any of their north African opponents.
Gombe Bulls coach, Abdulrahman Mohammed disclosed to ACLSports why it’s difficult for Nigerian sides to roll over the northern oppositions.
“Nigeria has always struggled against north African teams. The national team that won the 2015 Afrobasket fell to the Tunisians in the group stage and even the 2017 squad also fell to the same Tunisian side in the final. It has always been like that in the national team level not just the club sides. Before our departure to Tunisia, I told my boys what they would expect and I advised them to be wary of the North African teams.”
“They have great teams and play like the Europeans, what we see on Euro Basketball. We are used to the typical American style, NBA, too much physical game while for them all they need is flair. I wasn’t surprised when we played against them and couldn’t do well”.
The former player turned coach tried to proffer solution to the problem.
“It won’t happen overnight, it’s our orientation that needs to change. Every player grows up and aspires to play in the US. We have to go back to the grassroots and start to develop players and change their mentality about learning to play the Euro style.
In Nigeria any player who is big of 6′ 10 or 6′ 11 tall is made to play in the post, back other players and use his strength while in Europe it is different. Whether you are 6′ 10 or 6’11 you are taught to handle the ball, take shots from outside. It’s something that has to change all the way to the grassroots. It can’t be changed overnight,” the ex-international reiterated
In the same vein, former D’Tigers captain, Olumide Oyedeji believes other leagues are far ahead of the Nigerian league.
“We are kind of backward compared to other leagues and teams. We play a total of 24 games the whole season, but last season we played about 40 games which was the most we ever played. But North Africans play over 70 games in a season. This differentiates us from them, also they have better preparation, better structure and infrastructure than us,” he said
“I believe we can surely get there in a short time if we can have better organisation, better structure and preparation” he submitted
It took over four decades for the D’Tigers of Nigeria to win their first ever FIBA Afrobasket Championship in 2015. After 46 years, the wait for a continental title continues for Nigerian clubs.