On Tuesday, for the first time ever, Nigeria’s female basketball team, D’Tigress, secured qualification beyond the Group Stage of the ongoing FIBA Women’s World Cup.
On Wednesday, they went one better by narrowly pipping Greece, and will now compete in the Quarter Final.
Up next is a date with title favourites USA; if it’s any consolation, D’Tigress came in as rank outsiders anyway, and have massively over achieved already.
The men’s team, D’Tigers, on their own part secured a place in next year’s Men’s World Cup earlier this month when they beat Central African Republic in comprehensive fashion, and did so not just before any other country, but with four qualifiers still to play.
Not since 2006 has Nigeria been represented at a FIBA World Cup, either on the women’s or the men’s side. Take that, add to it the historic performances of the women’s team so far, and it would be logical for an outsider to wonder just what it is Nigeria is doing right on an organisational and developmental level.
Of course, we know better. If there is any nation on earth that has made a virtue out of getting results in spite of, rather than because of, proper planning, it is Nigeria. While both teams enjoy a breakthrough moment, the turf war between the separate factions seeking control of the nation’s basketball (NBBF) administration continues to rage in the background.
This state of affairs has had the knock-on effect of grounding all basketball league activities in the country. As one can guess, this has depleted the talent pool available to the national team selectors to some degree.
Rather than crumble, however, both teams appear to be thriving, against all logic. Knowing the political nature of the conflict at the heart of Nigerian basketball, it would not be a stretch to imagine the Musa Kida faction, which appear to be the one running things, claiming credit for this and using it to score points.
That, however, would miss the point. It would also be a disservice to the fighting spirit and unity of the players, as well as the technical input of the coaches. They are the real heroes, and have distinguished themselves almost exclusively on their own merits.
It should, instead, prompt those in the eye of the storm – Musa Kida and Tijani Umar – to examine themselves critically. The question is: if, with the chaos and confusion, our teams can go this far and perform this well, how much better could we do singing off the same hymn sheet?
If we had a thriving league, with which we could supplement the talent available already, how much more fearsome would we be?
Both the men’s and women’s teams are overwhelmingly composed of players who grew up abroad and took up the game outside these shores. While they are no less Nigerian, the idea of outsourcing development continually is not sustainable.
There is only so much that patriotism will gloss over in the long run. Unavoidably, the shoddiness of our processes and the ceaseless bickering will make our national teams less attractive to players who have grown up accustomed to a set-up where things work smoothly and seamlessly.
Also lurking in the back of the mind is the sense that we are on the cusp of something truly special. D’Tigress have already broken their glass ceiling, and D’Tigers are on a long unbeaten run. To fail to exploit fully this period of sudden abundance would be a real shame, and would reflect very poorly on the NBBF. Is that how either Kida or Umar would want to be remembered?
While they chew on that though, all the kudos go to our heroes, who are creating a rather more befitting legacy for themselves. Coaches Alex Nwora and Otis Hughley have done a tremendous job so far, the latter especially who came in following the much panned decision to relieve Sam Vincent of his duties.
“Nigeria have the talent needed and these ladies can shock the world,” Hughley said on the eve of the World Cup. They have only gone ahead and done precisely that.