The Milo Basketball Championship for both boys and girls has been in existence in Nigeria under the sponsorship of Nestle Nigeria Plc since 1999. Currently in its 19th edition, the championship has helped develop youth basketball teams across the country and some of the players have progressed to international basketball leagues. Col. Sam Ahmedu (rtd), President, International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Africa Zone 3, and a frontline stakeholder of the Milo Basketball Championship speaks on its evolution and progress so far. He spoke with Solomon Nwoke.
Tell us about basketball in Nigeria and how much impact Nigerian basketball is making in the World.
Basketball was already in Nigeria between 1950 and 1958 through members of the Armed Forces establishment of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) who served in the Second World War that ended in 1945. The game also got to Nigeria through voluntary agencies, which include the missionaries of the YMCA. People like Dr. Awoture Eleyae, who was coach and captain of the first Nigerian national team in 1965, began playing basketball in 1951. It was however in 1960 that the game became popular in the then four regions of Nigeria. The Lebanese and the Syrians, who had begun to flock into Nigeria by this time also assisted to popularize the game of basketball. The people who assisted to coach and popularize the game were mainly foreigners. They include Stuart Lewis (Abraka Teachers College), Frank Methods and Stickney Walter Davis (Katsina Teachers College), Fred Morten (St. Colobanus School, Ikot-Ikpene), Bob Wilber (Kagoro Teachers’ College) and “Father” John (St John’s College, Fugar). Others include Walid Zabadne and Hassan Azem (Syrian/Lebanese) based in Lagos. The first Regional competition was held in 1964 which was the year the Nigeria Amateur Basketball Association (NABBA) was formed and the Nigerian players who were very good in the game at this time include Sunday Udofia and Afolabi Koyi (from South Eastern Nigeria), Emmanuel Chagu, Aliyu Sambo (from Northern Nigeria), Segun Erinle, Sam Adeniran, John Banjo, Hassan Azem, Joe Garba, Walid Zabadne and Kunle Delano. Shortly after, much improved players like Alabi Adelanwa, Ganiyu Otenigbagbe and Joe Okhaku burst unto the national scene.
The first national competition in Nigeria began in the early 1960s. Later, there was also the Championship for Teacher Training Colleges for the Emir of Abuja Cup. The inter Regions Cup later came on board in 1964.
How long have you been involved with the Milo Basketball championship?
I have been involved with the Nestle Milo Secondary School’s Championship from its inception in 1999 which began with the National Collegiate Sports Foundation (NCSF) under the Chairmanship of late Mr Remi Olowude. MILO working with the NCSF laid the foundation of what is today a legacy tournament. The Nigerian Schools Sports Federation came on board in 2000 as part of MILO’s ambition to encourage sports as part of education in schools. These strategic partnerships have taken the championship from a few schools in Lagos to more than 8,000 schools nationally. I have been the National Coordinator of the championship which entails liaising and harmonizing activities of all parties involved in the administration of the Championship.
What legacies have basketball in Nigeria enjoyed from Milo?
The legacies basketball in Nigeria has enjoyed from the Nestle Milo Secondary Schools event are endless. Being Nigeria’s only established youth basketball tournament, it provides an avenue for budding talents to engage in the game of basketball competitively at a young age, provides a means and platform for social interaction among the youths of this country as they compete for laurels, provides opportunities for Nigerian youths to travel outside their localities and appreciate the potentials of this great country first hand, and served as a starting point for a lot of our current male and female Nigerian national team players, some of whom have played in the European leagues, the NBA and WNBA.
Some of them are Chukwudi Maduabum, Solomon Alabi, and Olumide Oyedeji (who did not play in the competition but took part in other events associated with the competition). For the WNBA, Evelyn Akator is a Nestle Milo Basketball Alumnus while the likes of Chioma Udeaja-Okoro, Vera Angwe and Uju Ogoka are also Nestle Milo Basketball Alumni. Half of the Nigerian Men and Women playing in the male and female leagues are products of the Nestle Milo Secondary School Basketball Championship. A lot of players have also obtained Educational/Athletics Scholarships to local and foreign institutions of higher learning after having been discovered at the Nestle Milo Championship. Nigeria referees and coaches have also continued to receive adequate training from officiating in this programme as well as the ‘train the trainers’ programme conducted by NBA coaches and staff.
How would you rate Nestlé’s success with the Milo Basketball Championship?
Some of my responses above have answered this question. Suffice it to say that without the requisite basic training at the grassroots, nothing can happen at the national level. That the Nigeria Basketball Federation has adequate manpower to participate in its premier male and female competitions at the national level today is all thanks to the foundation that the Nestle Milo Basketball Championship has provided for the players while they were in secondary school, which happens to be their first level of competition.
Games have been ongoing in this year’s competition. How has it been so far?
It has been fantastic. The championship has gone from the preliminary stage to the conference stages and now it is set for the national finals which will be holding at the National Stadium in Lagos which started from 15th June to end on 21st June 2017. Followers of the game have seen gritty action and teams’ desire to win. We have seen new talents who will wear the national colours in the years to come. We have seen the exciting sports razzmatazz and basketball action across the centres, where the will to win is also as important as the will to participate in this great spectacle. With all of these, you can only imagine how vibrant the national finals will be. The regional winners in the male and female categories will be playing to win the national trophy. The Central Conference (in Abuja), the Confluence Conference (in Lokoja), the Equatorial Conference (in Enugu), and the Western Conference (in Akure) are the four regional championship hubs from which winners have emerged for the national finals in Lagos.
What is the structuring of this year’s games and how will national winners emerge?
The games were structured in a way that all participating teams had a fair chance to attain their potentials. The Conference play-offs saw the teams at each conference divided into groups from where qualifiers to the next round emerged after playing in a round robin format in both boys and girls categories. A drawing of lots was done to determine which group each team falls into. The top two teams in each group qualified for the quarter finals and then the best two losers determined by an Evaluative Index also join the next round. Thereafter the championship went to quarter finals, semi-finals and finals at the conference level. The Champions in each of the four conferences in both boys and girls categories qualified for the national finals along with the best two losers which were determined by another Evaluative Index involving the losing finalists in the four Conferences. The four conference champions in both categories and the best two best losers will all hit Lagos for the national finals. This national finals will also be played in group format with the top two Teams in each group qualifying for the semi finals after which winners will qualify for the finals from where the overall winners and third place teams will emerge. As usual, it is a tough competition where the fittest survives.
Would you say that Milo Basketball Championship has achieved what it was set out to?
Yes,Milo Basketball Championship has achieved in the past 19 years what it was set out to by the initiators. Infact, some sports aficionados hold that the championship has attained heights which were not envisaged at the beginning of the championship. For example, no one envisaged that the championship would remain the major breeding ground for future basketball stars in Nigeria or that a lot of the players would go on to play in the national teams and leagues all across the globe, with some featuring in the NBA. No one envisaged that the championship would become so popular that it is now a model being recommended for other countries in Africa by FIBA. That many schools continue to partake in the championship, year after year, is a testimony to the importance now attached to the championship. The collaboration with the NBA on the Nestle Milo /Giants of Africa Top 50 Camp is another pointer. It was not in the original objectives but this aspect of the programme attached to the championship has put Nigerian youth basketball on the world map. And because of this event, the sponsors, Nestle Nigeria Plc, have continued to invest in up-to-date/state-of-the-art equipment for hosting of the event.
In this respect, the Nigeria Basketball Federation has benefited from equipment donated to it by Nestle Nigeria Plc. These equipment are usually those replaced with the latest versions for the Milo championship. The portable wooden floor at the National Stadium, Lagos, used for the Men’s Premier League and Women’s League was donated by Nestle Nigeria Plc to the NBBF, a fallout from the Milo championship. Winners and runner-up teams are being sponsored by their state governments for international championships. Teams from Edo, Benue, Delta and Kaduna states, to mention a few, are beneficiaries of this gesture. And may I add that this championship has enabled participating schools, some with no basketball courts before to acquire basketball courts with uprights built by Nestle Nigeria Plc as part of their winning incentives. This is in addition to provision of jerseys and bibs to all participating schools from the state level to the national level.
Nestle Milo uses the championship to teach values such as discipline, determination teamwork, friendship and respect to secondary school students. In what ways would you say the games have influenced the children from the participating schools?
While participating in the championship, players are mandated to obey the rules of the competition as well as technical rules of the game of basketball itself. Participants always play under a competitive spirit of fairness. The win at all cost syndrome associated with other competitions is absent here and it is the norm to see students from different schools hold hands and share banters in a cordial manner. The championship creates a peer group system of development for the participants who then begin to identify their colleagues from an early age. The peer group system has helped the youths of developing countries to grow together as they compete in a particular sport. Punctuality and service/support to the community is part of important values to be imbibed by the participants. As they see the management and staff of Nestle Nigeria Plc carry out community support through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, the players and coaches begin to appreciate its importance and are thus positioned to follow suit as they move along in life.