Nigeria has made gentle strides in finally living up to its immense potential in basketball in recent years but the West African nation looks set to take monumental strides in the sport this year. After qualifying to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, Nigeria’s Senior Men’s Basketball Team (D’Tigers) improved in the 2016 Games in Rio thanks to a 90-76 win over Croatia.
Later in August, D’Tigers seek to improve on that win and get more than a win in Tokyo, Japan and Mike Brown’s hire as Head Coach for the tournament correlates with this aim. A quick read through Brown’s long list of achievements in pro basketball is nothing short of breathtaking a country hungry is angling to tap into.
Brown won the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 2009, Coached Cleveland Cavaliers for nine seasons, Coached Los Angeles Lakers for less than a season and Coached Golden State Warriors since 2016 albeit as an Associate Head Coach.
Team accolades aside, Brown has worked with a handful of the greatest players in the world to ever touch a basketball. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant have had extensive conversations, clashed and received advice from Brown on the sidelines. That is the man the reigning silver medal winning nation at the 2019 AfroBasket will rally around for guidance through its campaign in the Olympics.
The Female Team-D’Tigress- are quite advanced in profile than their Male counterparts after making an earlier Olympic debut and becoming the first African nation to reach the World Cup quarterfinals. D’Tigress has enjoyed success under Otis Hughley who has served as an Assistant Coach in the NBA with Sacramento Kings with the World Cup heroics coming under his watch. The NBA formula worked with the ladies and the gentlemen want to create their version with the iconic Japanese city as the setting.
The chances of Nigeria excelling in Asia in August are quite high considering Brown’s impressive CV for starters. It’s not every day an NBA Coach caliber of a man gets to lead an emerging team and that shows how serious Musa Kida’s Basketball Federation is to win big. (can’t say same about Ghana as the country continues to trip over basic things like putting together a roster with foreign based players in it.)
By coaching some of the greatest players in the sport and a bevy of very good ones like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, Brown is primed to offer deeper insights into what makes those player so good to Nigeria’s team. The hidden angles, footwork and proper read of games are important in deciding games and those will come in handy when Nigeria meets the best in the world. For instance, Nigeria missed out on a win late in a game against Russia (77-82) at last year’s World Cup.
The NBA is the world’s greatest professional basketball league without question and not just playing talents but the best brains too. After observing playbooks manifest in front of his eyes for over a decade and schemed against those plays for several years, Brown is deep rich in every play in basketball. That should lead to schemes that enhance the strengths of Nigeria’s roster while reducing the weaknesses like off ball screens and movement in half court offenses.
Golden State piloted the basketball world into a new dimension on playing the game with its Small Ball philosophy. Houston Rockets Coach Daryl Morey got the world’s attention during his time with Phoenix Suns by focusing on one tenet of playing small-speed-but the Warriors went further and carried everyone along for the ride. Nigeria gets all the benefits on the biggest stage (no disrespect to the FIBA World Cup but the Olympics is the most prestigious national team prize in basketball) first hand with Brown as its Head Coach.
The best brains can teach the sport but without the right players, not even the greatest brain can engineer wins and titles and that’s why quality players are needed. In Nigeria, Brown has Africa’s most talented pool of players with NBA and EuroLeague experience to make this a perfect marriage.
Several Nigerian pro basketball players ply their trade outside the country with a sizable bunch in the United States. The likes of Josh Okogie of Minnesota Timberwolves and Chimedzie Metu of San Antonio Spurs have chosen to play for Nigeria while Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby is eligible to play for them despite representing Great Britain at under age competitions.
However, Brown’s hire can influence the biggest name to join D’Tigers. In Victor Oladipo, Nigeria has the singular talent to match any world beater after starring for Indiana Pacers since leaving Oklahoma City Thunder two seasons ago. Had a serious knee injury not struck, Oladipo would have teamed up with Gregg Popovich and Team USA in China for the 2019 World Cup.
After winning three games at the World Cup, a quarter final or even semifinal at the Olympics could be on the cards should Anunoby and Oladipo join.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter