Some basketball enthusiasts on Tuesday extolled the leadership qualities of Nigeria’s ex-international Masai Ujiri, the President, Toronto Raptors basketball team of Canada which recently won the USA NBA championship league.
Ujiri’s-led Toronto Raptors made history as they defeated star-studded Golden State Warriors 114-110 (4-2) in game six, to clinch the NBA finals for the first time in history.
In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), they hailed Ujiri as doing well for himself and putting Nigeria in good light in the basketball world.
Olumide Oyedeji, former D’Tigers captain, said that he was proud of the achievements while extending a congratulatory message.
“He took some hard decisions in selling some players and got a lot of condemnation for doing that, but he stuck with what he though was best for the club and they achieved at the end.
“It is a great win for Nigeria as well because he has proved to the world of basketball what we are capable of doing, especially when you look back at his humble beginning as an unpaid scout for Orlando Magic.
“We are proud of him for doing a great job and for doing it well; indeed he is an inspiration to many of us back at home.
“What we want is for him to also help to transfer that quality into the organisation of basketball in Nigeria, where players and coaches, administrators can benefit immensely,’’ Oyedeji said.
Sports writer Pius Ayinor described Ujiri as a man of steel who over the years had been involved in developing players.
He said that he got to know him in 2003 , while he was a support coach of the junior national team where he worked tirelessly to bring the best out of players.
Ayinor said that he was not surprised about the Toronto Raptors victory, adding that it was an achievement that followed hard work and tough decisions.
“It was not something that worked in one year or in two years, it has been there all along; he has always been a goal-setter that takes his time to do his job well.
“He knows how to push players the right ways to get the best results from them. He is a man that knows what he is doing.
“He has achieved so much in basketball, especially when he was at Denver Nuggets where he rose from a scout to become the General Manger.
“His Top Fifty Giant of Africa Foundation has also continued to discover players and given the younger generations the right to believe in themselves,’’ Ayinor said.
Similarly, Coach Chris Okoh described the victory as a good one for Toronto Raptors and for Nigeria.
He said that what he did was unbelievable with the changes of coaches and players he made that were not welcome by majority of the Toronto Raptors fans.
“Nobody rated Raptors to win, especially against a star-studded opposition in Golden State Warriors; they proved all their doubters wrong.
“He can continue to build on his success story because now his team is no more an underdog and his style of leadership has now become known to the world of basketball.
“We hope he can contribute these unique qualities to the development of Nigeria’s basketball that is currently faced with a lot of challenges.
“What Ujiri has also proved is that in where there are no infighting or rivalries, great things can be achieved,’’ Okoh said.
Biola Shomala also said that Ujiri had made the entire basketball family in Nigeria and abroad very proud, and that he had succeeded in making Toronto Raptors the team to beat in the coming season.
“His philosophy and ways of doing things is remarkable; indeed his track records over the years prove that he was a man with a vision.
“He has drawn the right attention for himself as he is now a hot cake in the U.S. where many other clubs desire his leadership and can pay huge sums of money to hire him.
“Indeed, I hope the stakeholders in Nigeria’s basketball can learn from this and learn from this outstanding personality.
“Because what we have presently is just unacceptable and it is not helping our basketball to grow, people should come together and let peace reign for the sake of the game,’’ Shomala said.