A brief look at what went wrong with Nigerian men’s basketball team at 2021 AfroBasket.
Nigerian men’s basketball team the D’Tigers had this buzz just before the 2020 Olympic Games courtesy of the two wins against powerhouses the United States of America and Argentina in exhibition games.
There was a reality check in the loss to Australia also in an exhibition game before the Olympics. Still, the team with some NBA players had stoked enough interest from Nigerians.
Three straight losses at the Olympic Games to Germany, France and Italy did not dampen the mood. Despite the underwhelming performances in Tokyo, there was still this optimism following the progress that the D’Tigers have made in the last five years.
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This feeling has changed following Nigeria’s 80-68 loss to Uganda in a qualifying game for the quarterfinals at the 2021 AfroBasket in Kigali, Rwanda.
With his loss, the D’Tigers have been eliminated from AfroBasket.
What went wrong?
The team led by NBA coach Mike Brown started the tournament in a brilliant fashion. Although depleted due to the absence of NBA and European-based players, the D’Tigers still had enough to beat Mali in their first game and thrash Kenya in the second.
It was in the third and final Group C game that trouble started. They lost in three quarters to lose the game to Cote d’Ivoire.
After failing to secure the top spot in the group, which guarantees automatic qualification to the quarterfinals, Nigeria had to face Uganda in a qualifying game they lost on Monday.
The loss unmasked the actual quality of the vastly inexperienced D’Tigers side. In hindsight, their first two wins papered the cracks, or so it now seems.
After the first two games, their shooting conversion rate reduced while their free-throw shooting was abysmal in all their games.
Against Uganda, D’Tigers were only nine out of 18 from the Free Throw Line, failing to get valuable points.
What does the future hold?
Coach Brown has gotten applause for his commitment since he took over the D’Tigers job in late 2019.
He is doing the job for free and has shown genuine interest in helping grow and develop basketball in Nigeria.
But his future is now in doubt following D’Tigers’ exit from the 2021 AfroBasket. If he remains at his job, he will have to reshuffle his backroom staff, with Alex Nwora leaving as an assistant coach.
If Brown leaves, it is left to see who will lure NBA stars to the D’Tigers set up the way he did in his short stint and throws up so many uncertainties ahead of the 2023 FIBA World Cup qualifiers