Babs Ogunade, a former Nigeria iternational is the immediate past Vice President of the Nigerian Basketball Federation. He spoke with Jacob Ajom on the recently concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the 2021 Afrobasket and why Nigeria performed poorly at both tournaments. Ogunade also spoke on the exploits of the Musa Kida-led board of the NBBF and declared their interest in seeking another term. Excerpts.

Nigerian basketball has,within the last two months, seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

At the height of its glory, the senior men’s national team, D’Tigers beat Argentina and the United States in a pre-Olympics exhibition game in the US. Although the largely inexperienced team succumbed to Australia in the last match at the exhibition tournament, most Nigerians began nursing the hope for a historic outing in Tokyo Olympics.

At the Olympics, it was a different ball game. D’Tigers lost all three matches(Australia 84 Nigeria 67, Italy 80 – Nigeria 71 and to Germany by 92-99) points. The female team which was also riding high on the crest of being African champions and an encouraging pre-Olympics camping also lost their three matches. Indeed, for Nigeria, it was an Olympics to forget. DiTigress lost 72-81 to the US, 87 – 62 France, while Japan beat them 102-83

However, there were a lot of talking points in Nigeria’s campaign at the Tokyo Olympics. “There were a lot of positives,” began Babs Ogunade, immediate Vice President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF. Although he was unequivocal when he expressed disappointment at the outcome of Nigeria’s Olympic adventure, he sounded optimistic of a brighter future for Nigerian basketball.

“We didn’t do well,” he agreed, but pointed out that the outcome had to do with a lot of factors. “Our performance was as a result of uncoordinated travel plans for the teams, the coaches were like two hour drive away from the Games Village and most of the technical crew members were not accredited. Can you imagine that the first two practice sessions of D’Tigers were conducted all by themselves, without coaches? It was that bad,” he said.

Ogunade, an ex-Nigeria international, said Michael Brown, coach of D’Tigers deserved better than what he got from Nigeria. “His name attracted a lot of players to the team and brought a lot of respect to the Nigerian bench. Players like Jordan Nwora, Chimezie Metu, Precious Achiuwa Jehlil Okafor, Josh Okorie among others showed a lot of promise, an indication that the future of Nigerian basketball rests with them 

“The coach performed some functions that had nothing to do with basketball; things outside his primary calling, which is coaching. He was neck-deep in travelling arrangements for his technical crew to Japan. The Nigeria Olympic Committee approved only three members of the technical crew – the head coach, his assistant and the General Manager – for accreditation . We(the federation) reached an understanding with the NOC to buy extra tickets for members of the technical crew, so that when they get to Tokyo, they would be accredited. But that didn’t happen. They were not accredited and so could not access the team. But when they(Nigerian officials) saw the large technical crews of other teams, they regretted their actions.”

He recalled how the coaches were of immense assistance to Brown while in camp and during the pre-Olympic exhibition tourney. “How could we have slumped so suddenly to a team we beat less than two weeks earlier?” he asked, adding, “it is rare in basketball.”

Ogunade dismissed critics who claim that the team’s poor showing in the Olympics was due to the absence of experienced players like Ike Diogu, among others who were part of the Olympic qualifiers and the FIBA World Cup. He said, “There is no denying the fact that those players have been our mainstay in the national team and their contributions cannot be wished away, but that does not mean they will stay in the national team forever. I played for Nigeria for ten years and, when the younger ones emerged I left the scene. I, for one, love those players and they know it. But when there are new kids on the block you leave,” he added, insisting that “the coach must do his job. The buck stops on his table. He knew all the older players were there when he selected the team. He is in charge.”

Unfortunately, things didn’t go well in Tokyo. The former NBBF Vice said the coach was very sad at the outcome of the Olympic campaign but had no regrets because he knew, if the conditions were right, the team could have performed better than they did. “It pained him that we did so badly in Tokyo. There were too many distractions as he did so many things outside his primary duty.”

Despite their early exit from the Olympics, the Nigerian team put up a respectable showing. Most of the young stars exhibited a lot of potential. Indeed, the Nigerian team put up spectacular performances against the biggest teams in the world. Team US had to come from behind to overtake them in the third and last quarters.

After the Olympics, Nigeria took part in the Afrobasket 2021 tournament in Kigali, Rwanda where D’Tigers’ put up a despairing performance that dampened expectations back home. The Nigerians made nonsense of their gallant showing at the Olympics. However, to all discerning followers of the Nigerian team, their Kigali showing was expected. 

The entire team was overhauled as almost all who were in Tokyo did not make the roster for the Kigali event. Before the commencement of hostilities in Kigali, coach Michael Brown explained to the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, why it was difficult to take the Olympic team to Afrobasket 2021, “It’s been a long summer for the players. They came to camp on June 20, went through the Olympics process and asking them to come here to Kigali in Rwanda will be ridiculous.”

Brown also added that the new players were not up to speed. “The new players here are really far behind.” The team had less than two weeks to prepare and it was evident that Nigeria was not ready and willing to participate. They began their campaign in Kigali against Mali, beating their West African rivals 81-73. Nigeria went ahead to record their second straight victory in the tournament after beating Kenya 71-55 on August 25 at the Kigali Centre raising hope among their teeming fans of another successful campaign.

However, things turned sour when they lost 68-77 points to Ivory Coast in the final Group game. Nigeria finished second behind Ivory Coast, though still qualified to fight against Uganda for a spot in the quarterfinals. Eventually, D’Tigera crashed out of the campaign as they lost the tie against the East Africans 68-80, a team that finished 3rd in Group D. Even at that, Ogunade, the former NBBF Vice President insisted that Nigeria did well in Kigali, given the circumstances. 

“No. We went to Kigali against our will. FIBA Afrique insisted on going ahead with the Afrobasket, despite appeals from Nigeria(the NBBF) and some other federations. We talked at length about it but they decided to hold the tournament. Of all the continents, only Africa held its continental tournament.” 

Ogunade said that bent on showcasing the best of African basketball to the rest of the world, FIBA Afrique had hoped that Nigeria would take her Olympic team to Rwanda. That couldn’t be possible for reasons adduced above by the team coach.

“There was a lot of movement in basketball circle soon after the Olympics,” Ogunade said in defence of Nigeria, adding, “Having just attended the Tokyo Games, and coupled with the resumption of pre-season for the NBA and most of the major basketball leagues across the world, it was difficult to ask the same set of players to come to Kigali for the Afrobasket, which is of no relevance in strict basketball sense. Winning Afrobasket does not qualify the country for anything.”

That said, Babs insisted that despite the poor performance of the hurriedly assembled team, there were lots of positives from Kigali. Some of the players that featured in Kigali were those who could not make the cut for the Olympics, some showed glimpses of great potential and very soon they will be in the main national team. The Kigali exposure was good for them and they will build on it.”

As election for a new board draws near, Ogunmade declared, “We will seek re-election for another term.” He said the Musa Kida-led board had been very successful and would seek another term for consolidation if given the opportunity.

Naming their achievements, which he said were recorded despite the very toxic environment, he said, “We have been able to put the name of Nigerian basketball on the lips of basketball followers all over the world. We won African titles with both male and female national teams, went to the Olympics with both male and female national teams. 

“In the domestic front the female league has been running non-stop for four years, Divisions 1 & 2 Leagues(male) have been going on for the past four years and for the first time in the history of Nigeria Basketball, we were able to secure a 5-year sponsorship deal deal for Divisions 1 & 2.

“As for the Premier League, we had a lot of distractions as some clubs went to court.

However, we played the league under a different name and format. We called it the President’s Cup. Winners represented Nigeria in the continent. As we speak the Premier League is on and even some clubs that were part of those that went to court are taking part. Everybody should come back and let us play.”

Babs Ogunade had a word for their critics: “There are so many distractions. Criticism is good. I plead with our critics to be constructive and objective, not destructive.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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