New Orleans Pelicans Jahlil Okafor To Represent Nigeria At 2020 Tokyo Olympics

New Orleans Pelicans centre Jahlil Obika Okafor has reportedly agreed to represent Nigeria at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo a twitter account affiliated to the national team announced on Monday.

The 24-year-old 6’10 NBA player who is American by birth qualifies to play for Nigeria through his paternal grandfather who emigrated to the US from Nigeria as a 20-year-old.

The announcement comes a few weeks after the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) announced that Golden States Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown will take charge of the men’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, at the Tokyo Olympics.

A precocious talent as a youngster, Okafor who was born in Chicago was selected with the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and also played for the Brooklyn Nets before his move to the Pelicans in 2018.

He comes from good basketball heritage with his father Chukwudi and his mother Dacresha Lanett Benton who died when he was 9 years old having met while playing college basketball in Chicago.

He joins an impressive D’Tigers roster that already includes fellow NBA players like Minnesota Timberwolves forward Josh Okogie, Miami Heats guard Vincent Nnamdi and Chimezie Metu of the San Antonio Spurs.

His arrival could mark the first of several other NBA players of Nigerian descent switching allegiance to the D’Tigers with the NBBF having previously confirmed to a target of presenting an all-NBA team at the Olympics.

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Okafor’s decision to don Nigeria’s green in Tokyo is a coup for the NBBF and further strengthens the belief that D’Tigers are uniquely poised to make a mark and claim the country’s first-ever medal in basketball at the games.

The announcement also comes in handy as Okafor who can also play as a centre could serve to be an effective replacement for the injured Al Farouq Aminu should the Orlando Magic power forward fail to regain fitness in time for the games.

Though he had been touted as a future international for the US Men’s National Team, Okafor never quite made the cut although he represented the US at age-grade level.

He was named the Tournament MVP for the gold-medal winning USA team at the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Cup and made the All-Tournament team selection at the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Cup, for the gold-medal Team USA.

He is now poised to fulfil his dream of playing international basketball for Nigeria.

The five-year NBA veteran has averaged 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in his career across three teams.

Nigeria secured qualification to the Olympics by finishing as the highest-placed African team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.