In the last decade, Nigeria senior men’s national team, D’Tigers, have tasted successes and failures in the biggest show piece in Africa, FIBA Afrobasket Championship. Their achievements in the last few Afrobasket Championships, have proved that basketball is another sports to be largely followed in Nigeria. Coached by six different coaches in nine Afrobasket Championships, two of which are indigenous coaches have contributed one way or the other on the continent.
First, Ayodele Bakare, a household name in the game, continued in the role after leading the team in 2001. He led the team to a second place finish in the 2003 Afrobasket Championship his best ever outing with the team. His return to the team 10 years later was not a pleasant one losing to Senegal in the quarter final match by just a point, 64-63. Sam Vincent and Robert McCullum replaced Bakare in 2005 and 2007 respectively and both couldn’t make it to the final either.
In 2009 Afrobasket Championship, former NBA star and current assistant coach of the Houston Rockets, John Lucas, took charge of the D’Tigers team and also couldn’t make it pass the quarter final stage losing to Cameroon. He, however, surpassed his last record two years later but had to settle for a third place finish after their loss to eventual winners Angola in the semi final match.
Their achievements in the last few Afrobasket Championships, have proved that basketball is another sports to be largely followed in Nigeria.
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Bakare returned for the 2013 Afrobasket and couldn’t replicate his last outing at the continental showpiece. And the wait for the continental trophy continued for Nigeria. A breathe of fresh air was introduced in the 2015 Afrobasket, as a new coach was appointed and for sure he finally delivered the trophy that had eluded the team. William Voigt an American basketball coach was brought in to take the team to Tunisia. Their build up to the championship was well planned with quality preparation for the team, although he kept fate with eight players from the 2013 squad.
Michael Umeh, who made two Afrobasket appearances in the past, Chamberlain Oguchi who also made three Afrobasket appearances, alongside two debutants Michael Gbinije and Shane Lawal were called for the 2015 Afrobasket. Oguchi’s experience was immense and eventually emerged the most valuable player in Tunisia. The 2015 Afrobasket winning team only recorded one loss on their way to the final losing to host Tunisia in their last group game, 70-59.
Prior to this year’s tournament, their title defense was marred with an unstable NBBF board.
Keeping fate with most of the players in the last tournament, playing as a team, with the right tactics and good build up to the tournament was all it took the William Voigt-led team to win Nigeria’s first Afrobasket Championship. Defending the title successfully two years later won’t have been too much to ask a team that stormed Africa. Prior to this year’s tournament, their title defense was marred with an unstable NBBF board. FIBA had to give a ruling disassociating itself from the elections conducted by two factions. The Tijani Umar faction on June 12 in Kano and the Musa Kida-led faction on June 13 in Abuja. The Kida faction was later chosen as the communication channel till November 30, when the two parties must have dealt with the crisis internally.
With Kida handicapped on the contract details of the last D’Tigers coach, they went ahead to appoint former Cape Verde coach, Alex Nwora who defeated Nigeria in the quarter final of the 2007 Afrobasket on August 9, 2017.
It took a while to release the preliminary list for the D’tigers camp as most of the 2015 squad turned down the offer to represent the country citing payment of their allowances, contracts, injuries while it was rumoured that some were convinced not to honour Nwora’s invitation and would rather have Voigt back in the team.
Camp opened on August 23 in Lagos while the foreign pros joined five days later from their base. The 14 home based players were prunned to two, Azuoma Dike and Yahaya Abdulwahab, while 10 foreign based players were added after a seven-day training session with Nwora assisted by Kwara Falcons coach, Adewunmi Aderemi and Gombe Bulls coach, Abdulrahman Mohammed.
Their road to the final had just one blip losing to DR Congo in the final round. That defeat was an eye opener for the D’Tigers who were hugely criticised by Nigerians for losing to a lowly ranked team who had been out of the Afrobasket for 10 years. Despite not having the fate of Nigerians due to the exodus of players and also the coach, they grew with the tournament and enjoyed lots of love afterwards on social media from the Nigerian fans.
Many people had given them no chance of making it to the final before the semi final game aginst Senegal on what was a repeat of 2015 semi-final and once again, D’Tigers gave them no chance making it to two straight finals. They enjoyed the leadership of Ike Diogu who missed out in the action in 2015 due to injury though was on the team and the experience of Deji Akindele who was in the 2005 and 2009 squad.
The 2017 squad had most players making their debut in the national team and against all odds got to the final but lost to host Tunisia. They broke down three minutes to the break and never recovered from it. D’Tigers were unimpressive from the arc as they made 30 per cent from the arc unlike the Tunisians who had a field day from the three point line. The team averaged 82 PPG, 40.5 RPG and also had two players, Ike Diogu the tournament mvp and Ike Iroegbu.
The most difficult game you can ever play is against the host nation in the final. If it was not for fatigue, the D’Tigers held their own, see how loud the gym was!
Nigeria ex-international Ogoh Odaudu told aclsports fatigue was a major factor the D’Tigers failed to defend their title
“We have our major, Ike (Diogu), who played major minutes in our game against Senegal. Ike is not young he is 34 and we can’t expect him to put up a great performance back to back. Also, it was a problem for us and why the coach had to switch to a zone defense which was bad for us and the Tunisians killed us off from there. All in all the team did a great job and Nigerians should be really proud of them.
“Fatigue started setting in and at that point, most of our key players had played major minutes the previous day. None of them played less than 30 minutes, all four IKs played over 30 minutes so fatigue was bound to be a factor. Tunisians started shooting at will off the zone defense, they had good ball movement and were doing all they were supposed to do and their shots started dropping for them in the third quarter that was where the trouble started for us,” Odaudu said.
“First off, we must commend the efforts of a team hurriedly put together to defend Nigeria’s title won in Tunisia in 2015. I felt the team started the final against Tunisia well but panicked once the co-hosts got into rhythm with some exquisite ball movement that pretty much created matchup challenges for D’Tigers.”
Odaudu also attributed their loss to loud noise from the home supporters.
“The most difficult game you can ever play is against the host nation in the final. If it was not for fatigue, the D’Tigers held their own, see how loud the gym was, only the Nigerian bench was cheering for them and nobody else. Others were supporting Tunisia, if it were to be in the group stage, it would have been better to play the host nation but in the final, they are already smelling the trophy, they know it’s within their reach, and so they will do anything to win it,” Odaudu submitted.
Basketball Commentator, Ayotunde Onabolu praised the team for getting to the finals inspite of the late preparation.
“First off, we must commend the efforts of a team hurriedly put together to defend Nigeria’s title won in Tunisia in 2015. I felt the team started the final against Tunisia well but panicked once the co-hosts got into rhythm with some exquisite ball movement that pretty much created matchup challenges for D’Tigers.
“Nigeria could not cope with the quick ball movement and off-ball movements of the Tunisians and that led to quite a number of wide-open shot opportunities for Tunisia which they took to near-perfection. On the offensive end, D’Tigers panicked and abandoned ball movement – a strategy that worked excellently in their quarterfinal victory over neighbours Cameroon where they knocked down 16 threes – and opted to put 2017 Afrobasket MVP Ike Diogu into isolations,” he said.
Onabolu also believed the team was overwhelmed by the crowd.
“I felt the crowd in Tunisia also played a massive part with their loudness, such that D’Tigers pretty much got swallowed in the occasion.
“It was an applaudable outing for Nigeria at the 2017 Afrobasket, and I can only hope that when the 2019 World Cup qualifiers come knocking on the door, we can build on the lessons learnt from Tunisia,” Onabolu concluded.