Minnesota Timberwolves wing Josh Okogie says choosing to play for Nigeria’s D’Tigers over the United States of America’s national team “wasn’t hard” and says he’s motivated by the prospect of taking the national team “back to our winning traditions”.
The 20-year old is one of four NBA players in the 15-man provisional squad called up by D’Tigers head coach Alex Nworah ahead of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup which takes place in China from 31 August – 15 September.
The 20th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft was born in Lagos and told busybuddiesng.com at the team’s open training session at the Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium in Lagos that he’d always wanted to play for Nigeria and considers it an honour to be able to put on the green jersey.
“This is where I’m from and I’m proud and it is an honour to represent my country,” Okogie said. “It wasn’t hard [to make the decision to play for Nigeria], I wanted to represent my country, I wanted to do something really good for my country. Me and the rest of my teammates want to be able to get this team back to our winning traditions.”
Nigeria have been drawn in Group B, the least ranked of all four teams with Argentina (5), Russia (10) and Korea (32) all ranked higher than 33rd placed D’Tigers who will be competing at the tournament with a team of rookies as none of the potential 12-man final squad have played at a world cup before.
A recently released power ranking for the World Cup by FIBA, however, places Nigeria in 8th position out of all 32 teams at the tournament with only Argentina in 7th ranked considered a better proposition than D’Tigers out of their group opponents.
For Okogie though, rankings matter very little with the player very confident that D’Tigers are more than a match for any team at the tournament.
“I think we can beat everybody, I’m never going into a game thinking I’m going to lose,” Okogie who averaged 7.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 74 games for the Timberwolves says.
“I think we have a good team, really good talented players, we’ve played together as a team so I think going to the world cup we just want to make a statement that Nigerian basketball is going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
With such a talented squad of players to pick from, there is little doubt that head coach Alex Nworah faces a very difficult task in selecting his final 12-man rooster for China.
Okogie says he’s done all in his power to impress his coach and make the case for his inclusion in the final team and believes “everything will take care of itself.”
“First of all it’s a blessing, I just thank God who’s given me the opportunity to be here, it’s been a fun ride with the team, we are learning from each other and I think we have a good chance of making it to the finals and doing well at the World Cup, I think my main focus is on that.
“[I feel] no pressure [about making the final list], I’ve done all I can, I’ve showed up everyday and trained my hardest so I think everything will take care of itself.
D’Tigers will play their first FIBA World Cup game on Saturday, Aug. 31 against Russia.