Nigeria men national basketball team head coach Alex Nwora believes the D’Tigers made up for missing out on a medal place at the 2019 FIBA World Cup by securing Africa’s sole ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but says keeping the present squad together as well as starting preparations early will be key to the team’s chances in Tokyo.
Nigeria’s place at the 2020 Olympics was confirmed with a magnificent 86-73 victory over hosts China in their final classification game at the Guangzhou Gymnasium on Sunday.
And although D’Tigers didn’t the progress they set out to in the tournament, Nwora who like the rest of the squad was making his World Cup debut said the experience has been a valuable learning curve for the entire team.
Of particular delight to the coach was the clear signs of improvements shown by his side in each passing game after early losses to Russia and Argentina in the group stages.
Just like in their opening game against Russia, Nigeria had led China by eight points going into the fourth quarter but unlike the game against the Europeans where they blew the lead to lose, D’Tigers showed remarkable resolve to defy the Asians in front of their home crowd to increase their lead and win by thirteen points.
“I feel really great knowing that we wanted to be on the medal table but I will settle to go to the Olympics,” he said. “I learned a lot from this and you could see that when we were up by eight points we made the necessary adjustments so that the mistake we made against Russia wasn’t repeated.”
“It’s a learning experience for me and the players like you can see we got better every game and this was a very important game for us, I know we’ve got the talent to compete with anybody on this planet.”
The coach who took charge of the team in 2017 and led them to second place at the 2017 AfroBasket in Tunisia also reserved some praise for the team’s General Manager Musa Adamu and the President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) Musa Kida for their roles in the facilitating the team’s success.
“I’m proud of the Federation for the opportunity they’ve given me, I’m proud of my team manager [Musa Adamu] for assembling this team, for what he has done from day one since we’ve been here for the last two years.
“I give a lot of credit to Engr. Musa Kida for all he has done to make us qualify for the Olympics.”
Many watchers had tipped Nigeria to go far at the World Cup but the team saw its preparations nearly torpedoed by a lack of funding from the Ministry of Sports which adversely affected their chances at the tournament.
Having overcome that hurdle to secure Olympic qualification, Nwora says ahead of the 2020 Olympics, the NBBF and the Sports Ministry must ensure early preparations for the team he believes to be one of the most talented ever assembled by Nigeria.
The US-based coach said keeping this particular squad together would be vital for Nigeria’s chances in Tokyo and that plans must be in place to help facilitate early scouting of Nigeria’s prospective opponents.
“It’s going to be up to the Federation to start early and also for the government to help them so that we can have early preparation and do scouting early,” Nwora said about preparations for the future.
“We are going to be playing a couple of these teams that are going to be playing the qualifiers to go to the Olympics and I know that I can make time between me and my GM to make sure that we go scout, those teams physically so that we can be well prepared.
“And also keeping this group together is very important to me because like I said they have enough talent here to play with anybody in the world. So, now that we know each of their strengths and weaknesses, I think we can put it to better use going forward.”