•How they conquered Africa
By Jacob Ajom
“Finally, D’Tigers are champions of Africa, beating her strongest nightmare, Angola. Congrats guys, Rio is next … proudly Nigeria!” That was Ogoma Anyahara’s reaction to D’Tigerss victory over Angola in the final of the 2015 AfroBasket Championship in Rades, Tunisia last Sunday.
Anyahara who works as an administrative officer for a government agency reacted on Fiba’s official website for the tournament.
It was a special day for Nigerian basketball and its teeming fans. A day that brought to reality, a long-standing dream – the continental title, an equivalent to the Africa Cup of Nations the Super Eagles have won three times. The entire sporting world rose in unison to acknowledge the iconic feat of D’Tigers as the all foreign based team outclassed Angola – of all nations – 74 -65 to lift the coveted trophy after nearly two weeks of toil, sweat and endurance. Never had Nigeria Basketball been so domineering than what was witnessed at the tournament.
Sixteen teams began the journey on August 9. They were divided into four groups of A, B, C and D.
The participating countries included Algeria, Angola, Central African Republic(CAF), Cameroon, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Mali, and Morocco. Others were Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Nigeria fell in Group A alongside Central Africa Republic, Uganda and host Tunisia.
D’Tigers began their campaign
on a sound footing with a heart-warming 88-63 points victory over CAF. They continued in their stride, dismissing Uganda 98-59. Their fairy-tale ride was however, punctuated by the host Tunisia who humbled the Nigerians 70-59. Before the defeat the coach Bryant Voigt’s tutored lads had already booked their place in the knock out stage.
Mozambique was next in the line of duty and D’Tigers vented their spleen on them with a reassuring 83-47 point victory.
Gabon too were dismissed the same way 88-64 in the quarter final. As expected, Senegal proved tough in the semi final in a match that could have gone either way. The game ended 76-76 after a late resurgence by the Senegalese but Nigeria proved their superiority in overtime, with Chamberlain Oguchi the Nigerian hero whose double three point shots helped D’Tigers to a first final appearance in 12 years.
Senegal, who last won the AfroBasket in 1997, entered the semi-final averaging 78 points per game, while Nigeria were the highest scoring team in the tournament with 83.2 points per game before the game at the Salle Omnisport de Rades.
Patriotism and $500 bonus
The victory over Senegal proved the tonic and the Nigerian team which had all along been playing without any match bonuses got $500 US Dollars each as match bonus.
The Nigerian camp erupted in joy over the gesture but the players remained focussed as they believed the Angolans who defeated Tunisia in the other semi final were beatable.
Then came the ‘D Day’. Angola were, no doubt, going to be tough. Nigeria eventually carried the day 74 – 65, to win the 2015 African Basketball Nations Cup. Nigeria had never beaten Angola in nine meetings dating back to 1987.
Eagles received over $60, 000 each as match bonuses for winning the 2013 Nations Cup and more than $50, 000 each as gifts from governors and corporate firms.
The victory in the final meant Nigeria automatically secured a direct ticket for the Rio 2016 Olympics. It will be the second consecutive Olympic appearance for D’Tigers who made their maiden appearance at the London 2012 Games. For their efforts, D’Tigers players got another $500 US Dollars each as match bonuses.
But how was this achieved under two weeks of camping in France? What were the ingredients that produced such a superlative outcome that saw the Nigerian team down the likes of Senegal and Angola; a feat hitherto unthinkable.
Patrick Omorodion, a member of the NBBF board who was with the team throughout their campaign in Tunisia offered us a glimpse into the chemistry of the Nigerian team.
“The players were driven by patriotism, discipline, commitment and hunger for success,” Omorodion said, adding, “never had we seen such display of uncommon unity and a collective sense of mission by a Nigerian team. They were just wonderful and deserved nothing less than the ultimate prize – the title.”
How the past influenced choice of Voigt as D’Tigers coach
No doubt, Nigeria Basketball had registered remarkable successes in the past. The London Olympics was, in all ramifications a watershed. They finished the group play with a 1–4 record, after beating Tunisia, making the first ever Olympic game victory in her history. However, the team’s performance in London left much to be desired. Ironically, that was the turning point for Nigerian Basketball.
The domestic league witnessed a rebirth with a cable television network, DSTV throwing its weight behind the male league while Zenith Bank Nigeria Plc renewed its commitment to the women’s league. As the domestic game expanded, the national team stagnated and became less competitive in the international arena. This was of much concern to the NBBF board as well as the players. What was to be done? Omorodion again offered thus: “After the Olympics, the board met and decided to overhaul the technical crew. Though they acknowledged the qualities in Ayo
Bakare, the erstwhile national team coach, they observed that he had his limitations. Between the players and the board, it was agreed we should go for the best.”
He said for the board to arrive at the choice of William Bryant Voigt as coach, it was reckoned that the American had been to Nigeria on numerous trips with Masir Ujiri as coach for the annual Ujiri Big Man Basketball camp. Apart from having been to Nigeria, Voigt had coached some of the Nigerian national team players back in America. “He was not new to most of them,” Omorodion enthused.
He said, “after Voigt agreed to handle the team, he was sincere enough to admit that he alone could not achieve the set target. He then asked for an assistant. The board obliged him.” Little wonder therefore, that the result is what we are witnesses to.
Home-based players fail to make team
Once the coach was secured, the players invited were mostly foreign based. This attracted a lot of criticisms both within and outside the Nigerian Basketball family. But Omorodion again came to the defence of the board and the coach. “Three players were invited from the DSTV League – two from Mentors and one from Pillars, but somehow their visa applications had problems at the French Embassy. We heard it had to do with problems between France and Schengen countries. It was a problem beyond anybody because up to the time the team was departing from France, the coach kept asking, where are the players from home. He would have really loved to work with them. That was how the team ended up with an all foreign based profile in its ranks.”
The team’s final make up, our camp source said was the making of Ike Diogu, the team’s captain who sustained an injury in France during the two-week camp.
“He was the one who sounded out all of them as most of them, though of Nigerian parentage, have never stepped their feet on Nigerian soil. Diogu was part of the Nigerian team to the 2012 Olympics and knew what it was like appearing at the biggest stage in world sports.”
Ike called each of them and told them the chances they had of going to the Olympics if they played for Nigeria and how they stood to bring honour and glory to their fatherland than playing for any other country. “This, more than anything gingered them up and their response was tremendous.”
This was the motivating factor as they rode through the tournament with only one defeat.
The Nigerian team applied everything humanly possible to achieve success in Tunisia. According to Omorodion, “for the first time, the technical staff had a match reader who followed every match and paid attention on every of our opponents, the players and their collective play.
“After every match FIBA Afrique gave us our own tapes for free but we ensured we purchased tapes of our opponents. After every training session they will retire to a room where the video reader will point out the weaknesses and strengths of opposing teams and individual players. Watching these videos gave the players a pre-knowledge of what to expect from each team and the players they were to meet.
President Muhammadu Buhari has since congratulated the national men’s basketball team, D’Tigers, on their victory over Angola in Sunday’s final of the FIBA Africa Basketball Championship in Tunisia. But that was not what the players were expecting.
Before the final, they had been told that should they win the tournament, the Nigerian leader had ordered that they routed their flights through Abuja for a grand reception at the Presidential Villa before returning to their various bases.
“The players were overjoyed when news about the Presidential reception filtered into the camp as most of them have never been to Nigeria. More than anything, some craved for that meeting because they wanted to meet with Nigeria’s number one citizen and shake his hand,” Omorodion said.
The joy was short-lived as soon after the triumph over Angola, they were told the President would no longer receive them. The meeting will now have to wait till after the All Africa Games which is beginning this weekend in Congo.