Nigerian women’s basketball team, D’Tigress are through with the African challenge for this period. The ladies who have just won the African trophy in a 3-peat fashion have shifted their focus to qualifying for the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup taking place in Australia next year.
For proper understanding of the feat performed by the Nigerian women it is important to state here that this set of players won the African cup in 2017; defended it successfully in 2019 and again defended the cup in 2021. D’Tigress beat the hosts Mali in Bamako and then Senegal on the road to winning the cup in 2017. Senegal and Mali are the most feared women’s teams in Africa.
In 2019, Senegal completed the construction of a modern sports hall and launched it with African competition. Sadly for them they met D’Tigress in the final match and bowed to a defeat. In September 2021in Yaoundé, D’Tigress defeated both teams again and indeed the rest of Africa to win the trophy for a straight third time.
It is quite striking that since 2017, they have not lost a game against an African team whether within a competition on the continent or in their meets in some other global competitions like the World Cup or Olympics qualifiers. Nigeria had won the women’s cup in back-to-back fashion in 2003 and 2005 but never had the country been so dominant on the continent.
The coach of Cote d’Ivoire Igor Kovacevic summed up the profile of D’Tigress in a post game interview just after his team lost the quarter final match to Nigeria.
“You know something,” he began as he smiled and leaned closer like a man ready to disclose a top world secret, “This team (referring to Nigeria) don’t belong here. You have an NBA level team competing against us.
“Seriously speaking, I don’t see any team beating Nigeria here. This team has been structured and built over time; it wasn’t just preparations for this competition but we can see proper organisation.”
And when he turned and saw the Nigerian coach, Otis Hughley Jr coming into the room, he stretched forth for a handshake and whispered audibly, “I like what you are doing with this team. We all have one or two things to learn in the organisation of this team.”The man had summarised the team and their quality.
“The Nigerian team produced two players in the tradition Top 5 selected in every major basketball competitions. Team captain Adaora Elonu and D’Tigress energetic guard, Ezinne Kalu made the list. From the back-to-back squad of 2003 only Aisha Mohammed carried on to link both squads and stayed with the current team through the Tokyo Olympics.
Soon after D’Tigress won the African cup last Sunday, coach Hughley got the chance to speak about his team. We wanted to know what he needed to take the team above being African champions to being a world great team.
We asked that he made a demand from the Nigerian government, the Nigeria Basketball Federation and Nigerians in general. His response was not what anybody expected. He asked for a united Nigeria basketball family.
He said, “Nigeria basketball can’t achieve much when the house is divided. We need one federation, one body with everyone supporting. We have a president who is working hard; let everyone support him and help the teams and the system get high up there.”
The Hughley-led team booked their ticket to the Women’s World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournaments happening in February alongside Mali in addition to the trophy.
Back in 2017 with Coach Sam Vincent in the stead they hardly were given a chance to do much. It was a transition period for a new NBBF board led by Engr Musa Kida. The preparation was quite tough in all ramifications such that the team arrived in Bamako without their match apparels.
And that was how AFA Sports arrived on the scene on an emergency note. Kida and his team were however determined to make a huge impact with the new federation. The players paid back with a win of the African cup.
It was a huge shock to the continent and it was the beginning of a new era that also saw the men defending their 2015 trophy to the last game. They lost the final match to hosts Tunisia. The team was practically a new one with only Ike Diogu from the 2015 team.
The players saw improvement in organisation and began to troop in from across the world leagues. Kida, then a deputy Managing Director of Total Nigeria could not get quick financial backing from the government and had to stake his two houses to raise the cash to get the team going at the best level.
For the first time in the federation’s history national team players could camp in the comfort and luxury of Eko Hotel in Lagos.
It made a lot of difference. A man who could put down his houses to sponsor a federal government-owned team surely means business and that posture has seen the country soar even at the world level. D’Tigress got to the quarter-final stage at the last FIBA World Cup in Spain.