In my previous write up previewing the upcoming Afrobasket 2017 tournament, I raised a number of issues facing Nigerian basketball team: D’Tigers. Most of the issues bothered around the quality of players available for selection to D’Tigers team and factional in-fighting at the Nigerian Basketball Federation (the “Federation”) following the contentious election held over the summer. At time of my last write-up the technical crew wasn’t an issue as I saw promise in the continued competent coaching of Coach Voigt. These issues are inextricably intertwined and are likely to affect the course of Nigerian basketball in the critical months and years leading to the 2019 FIBA World Championship (the “Basketball World Cup”) scheduled to be hosted in Beijing, China.
In the intervening period since my last write-up, FIBA (the world governing body for basketball) has issued a November, 2017 deadline for the factions contesting leadership of the Federation to reconcile and unite. Failure to achieve this reconciliation carries the risk of sanctions including ban from all FIBA related competitions. The faction backed by the Ministry of Sports fired the Coach Voigt led technical crew. Followed by the announcement of US based Coach Alex Nwora as the new D Tigers coach. A curious development coming just weeks before the commencement of Afrobasket 2017 when most other teams were finalizing their preparations for the tournament.
The current Federation didn’t help matters or improve chances of reconciliation by making the firing of the Coach Voigt led technical crew their first official act. The decision raised eyebrows in many circles considering the rationale given for the removal had nothing to do with their competence or track record of success but rather a desire to cut back on pay for the technical crew and promote indigenous coaching. The argument for cost savings falls flat on its face considering the fact that the federation is one of the best funded in Nigeria owing to their successful corporate sponsorship deals.
I made the argument for consolidating the gains of the 2015 Afrobasket team by expanding the pool of players invited to camp and eventual selection. Premised on the assumption that the competition for spots by the invited players would strengthen the team in key positions leading to an improvement on the 2015 squad. I am surprised by the near total absence of the 2015 Afrobakset players in this year’s line-up featuring only Ike Diogu as a returnee. Was it a deliberate policy to begin afresh with new talent? Were the 2015 players invited but chose not to take part? If yes, is it connected to the leadership tussle at the Federation or firing of Coach Voigt? Is the current team an improvement on the 2015 team? These are some of the questions running through the minds of close watchers of Nigerian basketball and I can imagine must be weighing heavily on Coach Nwora.
There is a serious risk that the discontinuity arising from the change in Federation leadership and technical crew cascading down to the team could lead to a failure to advance far into the Afrobasket tournament, affect our FIBA rankings or even miss out on qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Championship. I do sincerely wish for current team to succeed at defending our Afrobasket 2015 title especially coming on the heels of the D’Tigress crowning as Afrobasket 2017 Women’s champions. Should the team fail to advance out of the group stages it would be impossible to miss the connection between the factional in-fighting at Federation and this sad state of affairs.
With the potential to spiral into our preparations for the FIBA World Championship qualifiers slated for February, 23 2018 against fellow Group A team Uganda. The case for deepening and expanding quality of players for Afrobasket 2017 was made with an eye to the 2019 FIBA World Championship qualifiers. Aimed at giving the new crop of players a chance to gel as a team and solidify their positions going into the 2019 qualifiers. That would be the case for continuity! But we are left to imagine that perfect world in our minds eye.