They have exceeded all expectations, without question. And now Nigeria are going to the show.
No-one can say they didn’t earn their place either – wins over Lithuania and Greece followed by victory over a dangerous Dominican Republic team in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament is more than deserving of a spot on the greatest basketball tournament stage: the Olympic Games.
While there was frustration on the players faces when times got tough, it was raw emotion and a burning desire to succeed. Most were expecting Greece or the Dominicans to accompany Russia and Lithuania to England’s famous capital city.
Nigeria though got ahead of themselves, went all out and got the last of the three prizes.
While their approach to how they play isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, they have fearless competitors in Anthony Skinn, Ade Dagunduro as well as New Orleans Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu and former Golden State Warrior Ike Diogu. All of whom can score and create for others.
The side also have a never-say-die attitude and will scrap and fight for everything. Defensively, they are incredibly energetic and when in the mood, can out hustle any team. For stages of their semi-final defeat to Russia, they played a half-court pressure defence which for a brief period was brought to full-court and the Russians were uneasy. It led to turnovers which in turn resulted in Nigerian buckets. Oddly though, they changed their defensive tactic which favoured the Russians.
They have been placed in Group A alongside Lithuania, Tunisia, France, Argentina and USA and despite it being arguably the toughest of the two groups, but the Africans will go into the Olympic Basketball Arena with no fear, with USA, France and Argentina certain locks for quarter-final spots. Nigeria will look at games against Lithuania, who they have beaten already and Tunisia as their “winnable” games.
Whether the Nigerians, ranked 21st in the FIBA rankings can make some noise on the Olympic stage remains to be seen, but if the supporters that were in Caracas are anything to go by, the noise in the stands will most certainly be made. On the court is the priority though, and while they are outsiders, the bronze medallists at last year’s Afrobasket will take on all challengers.
Basketball can be an unforgettable sport; it provides opportunity and endless memories. And no matter what happens in London, Nigeria, along with their supporters, who win or lose, cheer, dance and sing like it’s an outdoor carnival will be a talked about team when it’s all said and done.
For now though, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are waiting…
John Hobbs will be reporting for TalkBasket at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/johnswisshobbs