With the crisis in Nigeria basketball finally put to bed, head coach Mike Brown wants to see the team make a quick burst off the blocks in the fourth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup qualification.
As Nigeria go into the series of games in Ivory Coast this weekend, Brown wants his wards to stem the tide of losing starts, which has plagued the team over the last two qualifying windows (they didn’t play in the third window).
D’Tigers lost their first game of the first window to eventual group leaders Cape Verde 79-71, and also lost their first game of the second window 79-70 to the same opposition to finish with two wins from four games.
Although the Sacramento Kings head coach is not with the team in Abidjan, he is still keeping an eye on things from afar, and Brown says the top priority is for the team to make a good start against the hosts.
Brown told ESPN: “We tried to get the team there a bit earlier to have a few more practices to see whether we can get ready to perform at a little higher level in game one.
“In the last window, things were put together at the last second and the team went there right before the first game.
“Hopefully, with us getting there a little earlier, getting three or four practices under our belt, it will show a little bit of difference when it comes to playing the games.”
The last few rounds took place while Nigeria were still enduring their most recent leadership crisis, which saw the country’s president declare a ban on international basketball in the country.
NBBF president Musa Kida told ESPN: “Our team is better than those results but we understand the situation we were in at the time, which was not very ideal.
“It will not be easy to turn things around immediately, but we are confident that we will get there slowly but surely.”
Also on the roster was Miye Oni, who last played for the Utah Jazz but is now a free agent. From the G-League came Michael Gbinijie of the Oklahoma City Blue and Uchenna Iroegbu, who played for the College Park Skyhawks to make a total of five US-based players.
Metu was the only NBA player in the last phase of the qualifiers in Rwanda where D’Tigers won two and lost two, leaving them lying fourth position in the group and in a precarious position for qualifying. Only the top two teams from each of the two groups, and the best third-placed team, qualify.
Although not in Abidjan with the team, Brown remains very hands on and his imprint is very much all over it. Apart from picking the players, he also hand-picked the coaches, led by Mfon Udofia, who has stood in previously and led the team to an unbeaten run.
A top NBBF official, who did not want to be named, told ESPN that Brown is determined to see D’Tigers make it to the World Cup after the crisis that led to the women’s team missing out on their own competition.
“Mike Brown has been a godsend to Nigerian basketball,” the official said. “Despite all of the issues we have had, he has remained committed to Nigerian basketball and is determined to see this team qualify for the World Cup.
“If only to give the country something to look forward to after the disappointment of seeing the ladies losing out of the World Cup through no fault of their own.”
“He calls every night,” a member of the coaching staff who did not want to be named, told ESPN. “We have put in a lot of practice in the last three days.”
With two qualifying windows left, D’Tigers have little margin for the sort of errors that cost them two games in the previous window, and may find themselves needing to win every game to put themselves back in automatic qualifying position.
After they open their campaign against hosts and runaway group leaders Cote d’Ivoire on Friday August 26, Nigeria face Guinea a day later. They finish the last but one round on Sunday, August 28 against Angola.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup will take place from 25 August to 10 September in Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings), Josh Okogie (Phoenix Suns), Miye Oni (FA), Michael Gbinije (Oklahoma City Blue, NBA G League), Ike Nwamu (BC Samara, Russia), Uchenna Iroegbu (FA), Michael Oguine (Saint Chamond, France), Ben Emelogu (Rouen Métropole Basket), Keith Omoerah (Jamtland, Sweden), Amanze Egezeke (Kataja, Finland), Christian Mekowulu (Casademont Zaragoza, Spain), Abdul-Malik Abu (s.Oliver Wuerzburg, Germany), John Mathias Iduh (Kano Pillars), Michael Okiki (Gombe Bulls), Ibe Abuchi Agu (Nigerian Customs)
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