You must have heard the big news that Golden State Warriors Associate Head Coach Mike Brown has agreed to be the Head Coach of Nigeria’s Senior Men’s National Basketball Team. The D’Tigers as they are popularly known has been a force to reckon with over the past decade since making its debut at the Olympic Games in 2012.
That mark was followed by an even better feat as Nigeria lifted its first ever AfroBasket title in 2015 and sealed qualification to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo at the 2019 World Cup. By qualifying to Tokyo, Nigeria has made it to three straight Olympics but the third would be the first with a world class Coach.
Aside playing a key role on Steve Kerr’s bench in NBA title winning campaigns in 2017 and 2018, Brown has a collection of accolades and wins to boast of. The former Cleveland Cavaliers head trainer was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2009 and spent seven successful seasons with the franchise.
While his tenure with Los Angeles Lakers was short lived, he coached the great Kobe Bryant just as he has coached players of Kobe’s ilk like LeBron James and Steph Curry. That should work fine for a Nigerian team brimming with confidence after winning three games at last year’s World Cup.
There are quite a number of reasons his hire should get Nigeria to progress further in Tokyo than previous Olympics. For example, close losses to Russia and Argentina could easily turn into wins with the experienced tactician at the helm for the West African nation.
Another reason Brown’s hire is a good omen for D’Tigers is his ability to attract top talents for the Olympic run. Quality hires get the attention of other quality personalities and teaming up is feasible; players in the NBA are riding this trend to form super teams in the league. While the likes of Al Farouq Aminu, Ike Diogu and Ben Uzoh have done well, the gap in quality still exists and there is the need to close it by widening the scouting net to bring in more talent.
The search has to go deep in the bios as players are eligible to play for multiple countries due to their diverse backgrounds. Thanks to its large population, there a host of players of Nigerian heritage, chief among them, reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner Giannis Antetokounmpo.
However, not all have the quality the country needs to make it to the top; other have already committed to play for other countries making them ineligible. Here are players who meet the cut on the aforementioned standards to be considered for selection by Nigeria.
Indiana Pacers 27 year old Guard is on top of this list because of his undeniable talent and athleticism that has made him a two time NBA All Star. Born to a Nigerian mother in the United States, Oladipo is eligible to play for Nigeria since he is yet to represent USA at any Senior International competition. The former Oklahoma City Thunder player was in line to play from Team USA at the 2019 World Cup but a serious knee injury curtailed those plans.
He recently returned to action and has been promptly called up by the US as a member of its preliminary 44 man roster headlined by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook. Brown should target Oladipo because the latter fills a huge void at the Point Guard position in half court offense situations and is a major upgrade on the options D’Tigers have had.
Born in England and raised in the US, Anunoby is one of the best young perimeter defenders in the NBA and has parlayed those skills into a starting gig with reigning NBA Champions Toronto Raptors. His improvement on the offensive side particularly his ability to hit three point shots makes him a tough option to overlook.
The soon to be 23 year old is averaging 10 points and 5.3 rebounds this season after averaging seven points and 2.9 rebounds last season. The Small Forward is yet to play internationally for the US and Great Britain which makes him eligible to represent Nigeria at the Tokyo Games. Sliding him alongside Minnesota Timberwolves Josh Okogie and Oladipo would give Nigeria a mean perimeter defense and strong offense production.
Ayton is more synonymous with Bahamas than Nigeria after headlining the 2018 NBA Draft as the number one overall pick. However, Ayton’s biological father is Nigerian, his mother is from Jamaica and was born and raised in Bahamas before moving to the United States. His colorful background was on display on Draft Night as the inner part of his suit had the colours of all three national flags.
The Phoenix Suns Center is a throwback to the old school era of basketball where big men patrolled the paint and did damage in close quarters with the rim. “There’s a few flags in there… I’m not just a Bahamian. I’m Nigerian and Jamaican. So I just want to let the world know that. Thank you” Ayton said after he was drafted by the Suns. His skills should give Nigeria a boost on both ends of the court for Nigeria should he choose to play for them.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter