by Babatunde Ogunrunde
Nigeria, making a second appearance at the Olympics was on Aug. 15, ousted from the basketball event of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil after losing 69-86 to the hosts.
It is surprising to many that the country’s national team were sent home in the preliminary rounds just as it happened at the London 2012 Games.
The team won only a Group B game against Croatia 90-77 and lost four to Argentina (94-66), Lithuania (89-80), Spain (96-87) and Brazil.
In London the team lost four group matches to the U.S., Lithuania, France and Argentina and defeated Tunisia.
Basketball fans have acclaimed the national team’s heroics in lifting their hope with the defeat of Croatia in Rio and had hoped the players would attempt a berth at the quarter-finals by conquering Brazil.
But this was not to be because of not having the calibre of players that would have matched their opponents in the competition.
However, with their performance, D’Tigers has now recorded two wins in two Olympics.
The D’Tigers heroics were led by Ike Diogu, Alade Aminu, Ben Uzoh and Chamberlin Oguchi being the team’s source of strength, especially when they won the 2015 Afrobasket Nations Cup in Tunisia.
The team, however, will rue the absence of the leadership of their former long serving captain, Olumide Oyedeji, who stepped down from international duties few weeks before the Olympics.
Oyedeji’s experience goes back 20 years of playing for D’Tigers and being regarded as the backbone of the team.
The team also missed the services of Al-Farooq Aminu who could not make the Games due to the inability of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) to pay his insurance fees.
Aminu’s club, Portland Blazers of the U.S.’s NBA outfit, had requested the NBBF to pay some insurance fees before his release.
D’Tigers will also painfully recall the loss of Olaseni Lawal of BC Barcelona Lassa of the Liga, Spain who was injured in their first game to Argentina.
Lawal, a power forward player whose contributions to the team in the defence and in the offence was like a combination of three players in one, is revered by his teammates.
Lawal, Aminu and Oyedeji formed the nucleus that had given the team the psychological balance which drives them to believe; something which was lacking among the current squad.
Adefemi Adefeso, a sports analyst, says the team performed credibly in the competition.
He notes that the team competed in a very tough group that had the best world ranked teams.
“All credits should be given to them, because competing with the likes of Argentina, Lithuania, Spain and Croatia was not easy as they are the best ranked in the world of basketball.
“We taught they would have overrun Brazil, following their victory over Croatia, but it was obvious they were just tired, having worked hard to earn a valuable victory over Croatia.
“But interestingly, the group had no clear dominance of any team as every other team fought hard for their survival, losing one or two matches.
“Moving forward, we must see the positives from the Rio experience and try to build toward the 2017 Afrobasket Nations Cup and also the World Championship in 2018,’’ Adefeso said.
He adds that the NBBF should see their flaws, especially in the area of getting the best players which will definitely make a difference.
“We missed the services of the likes of Al Farooq Aminu and Festus Ezeli to mention a few of our best players who could have made a huge difference in the team.
“The future is what the federation should focus on now and have a good plan for us to compete favourably at the next Afrobasket and World Championship,’’ Adefeso said.
A former coach of D’Tigers, Ayo Bakare, who led the team to their first Olympics appearance in London, wrote on his face book page that credit should be given to the team.
Bakare like other fans had strongly believed that D’Tigers would defeat Brazil.
He said: “I am the Oracle and predicted the victory; unfortunately it did not come by.
“The players gave a good account of themselves, it was a painful loss but we will always be proud of them for their performance.
“We just have to move on and believe the future is very bright for us in basketball,’’ Bakare said.
Upe Atosu, Nigeria’s senior women D’Tigress player, wrote: “I am devastated and could not but cry to see the team lose to Brazil.
“This is a sad loss; we were looking forward to D’Tigers progression to the quarter-finals, I cannot tell you how painful this is,’’ Atosu said.
Stanley Gumut of Kano Pillars Basketball Club said: “D’Tigers had a great outing and had done extremely well, closing the gap between Africa and the world.
“I am not happy that we lost but I am impressed with the entire team and what the future holds for us as players,’’ Gumut said.
Undaunted, the players believe that the outing will not be their last Olympics.
“I don’t think this is the last time you’ll see us at an Olympic
Games. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’’ said Aminu, one of the team’s Power Forward. (NANFEATURES)