Leadership (Abuja)

1 December 2012

Nigeria: Bakare Speaks On Olympics Experience

Nigeria is at the moment planning to consolidate on the gains of playing at the Olympics in men's basketball for the first time.

Part of the consolidation is to ensure that the foundation laid is improved upon so as to do well at the Nations Cup in Cote d'Ivoire next year. Since playing at the Olympics, Ayodele Bakare, the national basketball team coach who guided Nigeria from Afrobasket 2011 in Antananarivo, Madagascar to Caracas, Venezuela and onto London, has not spoken. But he has now written his report revealing the Olympic adventure. For him, there are recommendations and points that he considers crucial for the feat in London to be built upon.

He said despite the four defeats and lone win, Nigeria can become a world-class basketball team through a world-class programme. He admitted that, in order to hold on to a world powerhouse status, the structure and the organisation of the Nigeria Basketball Federation must be world-class too. "This will ensure that we keep and improve on those things which helped us get to the top: world-class coaches, world-class players, world-class preparation for our teams, world-class motivation, plus world-class tournaments and tours," Bakare wrote.

Very few know if Bakare will be reappointed to coach D'Tigers to the continental fiesta.

Bakare feels Nigeria cannot sustain the current momentum of growth without standard facilities. "We do not have standard facilities that can host major tournaments, clinics and even our national team programs. If we fail to win a ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the qualifying tournament [Afrobasket] next July, it will be because we failed to do what needed to be done this year October, November or December for example," Bakare said.

The performances in summer prior to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, D'Tigers moved Nigeria up the FIBA Ranking to 17th, the highest world ranked position held by one of the Nigeria's national sports teams.

During the qualifiers in Venezuela, the national men's team became a hot topic of conversation following an astonishing performance at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT), before they competed at the London Games. In the coming few weeks, the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) will announce its future objectives and strategies which will affect all basketball categories in the country.

D'Tigers took on Venezuela, Lithuania - on two occasions - Greece, Russia, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, USA, Argentina and France at the OQT and the Men's Olympic Tournament. In an unusual but successful summer for the African team, they upset European giants Greece 80-79 at the qualifiers, a win that catapulted them to the elite 12-team field that gathered in London.

With that, the Nigerians became the first African team to secure a place at the Olympics via the qualifiers. Their 156-73 defeat to the USA stained their Olympic appearance as it set a record for most points conceded by a team in the Games' history. Three months have passed since then and the D'Tigers are looking ahead to a new era.

Tony Skinn and Ade Dagunduro got injured earlier in the tournament limiting Nigeria's options. Then in the most-expected game for Nigerian fans, they suffered their biggest defeat ever at the hands of the Americans. That game, Bakare wrote, "was not winnable by any stretch of the imagination, but we had a chance against either Argentina or France. So, did we plan to lose by 83 points?" Bakare questioned rhetorically. In response still he stated that "We most certainly did not," he explained.

"We played the game determined to give our best effort. However, we could not compete with the transition and perimeter play of the Americans, especially because we had lost our efficiency at the crucial point guard position.

For Bakare, the 156-73 scoreline "did not reflect the heart or the abilities of the Nigerian team. It was just one of those nights when we had insurmountable manpower deficiencies, and we played our worst game while they played their best."

The NBBF President Tijjani Umar believes that "a lot has been achieved", but "a lot more has to be done. We are working on the future of basketball in the country and receiving CVs from head coaches from around the world willing to work with us."

Whenever the decision is made, Umar said they will be working closely with players and coaching staff. The NBBF planning involves contacting players, beforehand telling them that the NBBF has identified them to work with the team in 2013.

"We will seek to work very closely with their clubs, possibly pay them a visit and introduce a process of how players are doing in their clubs", Umar said.

The future of Bakare has not been decided, but the NBBF recognises that his hard work has "laid the foundations of this process. So, coach Bakare is part of this mix process."

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