Today, we continue Olympic Madness with a preview of Nigeria!
FIBA World Ranking: 21st
Qualfied By: 3rd at the 2011 Afrobasket, Won the Third-Place Game of the 2012 Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Previous Olympic Appearances: None
NBA Players: Al-Farouq Aminu (New Orleans Hornets)
History: Nigeria has always been an African power, but that doesn't mean much because it's the weakest zone in FIBA, and because Angola pretty much dominated the region since the late 70s. The country has always been a source of a good deal of college and NBA players, including Hakeem Olajuwon and the infamous Michael Olowakandi, but they've never had much organization at the national level due to a lack of competitive domestic teams and poor government management. They've been to two FIBA World Championships, including an impressive run in 2006 where they nearly upset Germany in the Round of 16.
Overview: Despite the above success, having Nigeria in the Olympics is a huge coup for the country. Sure, they've seen some international wins before, but they've never been higher than 13th in an international tournament, and the Olympic tournament only includes 12 teams. Secondly, they defeated basketball powerhouses Lithuania and Greece to get where they are now, making for the country's two biggest wins since they defeated Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Thirdly, it's the first time in Olympic history that two African teams will be represented in basketball.
And, before you think it, these guys aren't first round fodder. Nothing irks me more than hearing Fran Fraschilla get on ESPN and blather on about how Nigeria has no chance, and how they and Tunisia are an automatic win for everyone else in the group. Anyone who thinks this team doesn't stand a chance clearly hasn't watched them grow and evolve through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They went from an uncoordinated team that could barely keep up with Venezuela to a unique offensive attack with the talent to best some of the best teams in the world, and their roster doesn't even come close to resembling what they trotted out for the 2011 Afrobasket.
Below: Why They're Unique, Strengths and Weaknesses, Why Nigeria is Ballin', Highlight Reels, Notable Players, Outside Quotes, Outlook For the Olympics and Beyond!
This Nigerian team is unique because they don't have a point guard in the traditional sense, and they have a variety of different ways with which to score. In some of the earlier games where they struggled, they might have gone an entire half without dishing an assist. Instead, they let individual players try to make scores in isolation sets or post ups. Guards like Anthony Skinn, and Ade Dagunduro will drive ferociously against their matchup, getting a foul in the paint or creating space for a slick looking shot. Derrick Obasohan does the same, except he has more of a tendency to shoot. The bigs on the team also have their own way of scoring. Current NBA Player Al-Farouq Aminu runs the break well and can stretch the defense with his threes, while former NBA player Ike Diogu has an array of post moves, and can also hit a few threes himself. The team also has a pure shooter in Chamberlain Oguchi, and another useful transition partner for Al-Farouq in his brother, Alade Aminu.
Though this team doesn't have the talent level of Spain, the United States, or France, they're perfectly suited to beat the European style of play because they're not intimidated by the zone any more than a man-to-man defense. They're also big enough to out-rebound most teams, and they can force enough steals to get easy points in transition. But, because of their reliance on rebounding and unconventional offense, they can find themselves in long period of offensive drought, especially against bigger teams like Russia or Spain. Also, because of their reliance on athleticism and individual skill, they wouldn't be able to outwit a team like France or the United States.
Why This Team is Ballin':
Okay, so this video of Tony Skinn isn't of him playing for Nigeria. But who cares? It's probably one of the funniest dunks I've ever seen. Through the years, Tony Skinn has developed a bit of a reputation as a dirty player, having once punched a Hofstra player in the you know where. This dunk takes the cake though. After slyly faking the defense out of his side of the court, he charges at the basket and karate-kicks his opposition before dunking the ball. Say what you want about his class or whether it was legal, but doing something like that takes creativity and skill. And for me, those latter two aspects of the Nigerian team's play, embodied in this dunk, is what makes them ballin'.
Best Highlight Reel:
If you read nothing else in this preview, then please, WATCH THIS VIDEO. It's not just a study of Nigeria's ability on the court, it's an appreciation for just how darned entertaining these guys make the game of basketball. This victory over Greece is what put Nigerian basketball on the map. The supposed no-call on the final shot was a source of rage for Greek fans everywhere after the game, but there's no denying that the Nigerians played their heart out, and made shots that some NBA players aren't capable of making.
Players to Keep an Eye On (click on their name for highlights): Al-Farouq Aminu, the team's second leading scorer and an excellent athlete. He scores well off of rebounds in the post, he can run the break, and he has a decent shot on the perimeter. Ike Diogu, a traditional big in the paint who was playing in China and Puerto Rico last year after several seasons in the NBA. He can post up most players in the tournament, will grab a lot of boards, and has been known to shoot an occasional three or two. Ade Dagunduro, a former Nebraska swingman. He can get really hot and cold scoring-wise, but he's always the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Tony Skinn, the team's de-facto point guard. He uses his quickness to get to spots on the floor where he won't be blocked, and his jump shot, like Dagunduros, could be essential for the Nigerians team. Derrick Obasohan, probably the best pure shooter on the team. But he's known for being very ginger in the paint as well. Alade Aminu, Al-Faroque Aminu's brother. Like Al-Farouq, he has excellent athleticism, but the range on his shot isn't quite as good.
What Others Are Saying:
"[Against Argentina] This is a winnable game for Nigeria. An advantage for the Nigerian team is their versatility and quickness. The Nigerian team are younger and more agile than the Argentines. If the Nigerian team can consistently attack the Argentinean defence, it might be hard for the Argentines to recover. This is the type of game that the Nigerian guards, Skinn and Dagunduro need to take control, they need to be able to orchestrate the offence and hurt the Argentines with their dribble penetration.
[Against France] I can see an upset here for Nigeria. France and Nigeria play similar kind of basketball, I believe the key advantage for Nigeria in this game will be Tony Parker, if he is not 100% Nigeria can take advantage of this and work their inside outside game to limit the French, this is the kind of game that shooters like Derrick Obasohan and Chamberlain Oguchi will have to be at their best to put away the French. France are not excellent shooters, so it is important for the Nigerian team to close out quickly and convert fast break opportunities. A lot of analysts are expecting France to be one of the favourites, but I see them struggling in this tournament."
"Led by Ike Diogu and Al-Farouq Aminu, Nigeria is a part of the wave of teams who have heavily recruited NCAA and NBA players with ties to the nation. Instead of focusing on homegrown talents, Nigeria and other nations have "recruited" players who never lived in the country or played in their youth teams in international competition. Diogu, a former Arizona State standout who played with a number of NBA teams, including the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers, was born in Buffalo. His parents emigrated from Nigeria in 1980, three years before his birth. Diogu hadn't played for Nigeria until this Olympic cycle."
Does This Team Have a Shot at a Medal? I'll say that Nigeria is definitely this Olympics' biggest wildcard. They have the potential to finish as high as second in Group A, but I could also see them falling apart completely and finishing in 6th, behind Tunisia. The big question for Nigeria will be whether their coach, Ayo Bakare, can find a way to consistently generate offense. The team was totally unprepared for the Olympic Qualifying tournament going in, and they still have a few problems deciding which players fit in which roles, and how to distribute the ball. If they can continue to play as well as they have, they have a dark horses shot at a medal. But if they come out flat-footed again, they could find themselves with a very early exit.
Future Outlook: Like their shot at a medal this year, Nigeria's basketball future is very much up in the air. The sport federation in that country is somewhat disorganized and corrupt. In a highly criticized move, the soccer team was suspended from international play by president Goodluck Jonathan after they failed to qualify for the tournament stage of the 2010 World Cup. This move put the highly successful women's team in jeopardy for the 2011 Women's World Cup, and the whole federation in possible trouble for political interference. The ban was later lifted, but I think that incident is indicative of the state of Nigeria in general. Whether the team sticks together is anyone's guess, but it's a highly talented basketball country that will no doubt have more American and Nigerian-bred stars for years to come.
How do you think Nigeria will finish? Do they have a shot at beating Team USA? Vote in the poll, post a comment!
How do you think Nigeria will finish in the 2012 Olympics?
They'll continue their success by winning a medal! (7 votes)
They'll reach the tournament stage and advance, but not medal. (3 votes)
They'll reach the tournament stage and get knocked out in the first round as a high seed. (2 votes)
They'll barely reach the tournament stage and get knocked out in the first round. (6 votes)
They won't reach the tournament stage. (7 votes)
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