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African basketball: Calls for new narrative in Nigeria, NBA draft action

IN a new weekly African Basketball report, former Kenyan women's basketball captain, Silalei Shani rounds up African basketball action on and off the continent. This week, she reports on the NBA draft, World Cup qualifiers and calls for a "new narrative" for the continent's basketball powerhouse, Nigeria.

AFRICA continued to play its role as a growing hub for NBA talent in June, with 8 African players drafted in this year’s NBA Draft 2022. The event, on June 23, had wide African representation. Two players who have garnered a lot of attention are Christian Koloko of Cameroon and Khalifa Diop of Senegal.

Arizona centre Koloko was selected by the Toronto Raptors with the 33rd pick. He is the first Cameroonian player drafted into the NBA since Pascal Siakam, in 2016.

Gran Canaria (Spain) forward Diop was selected 39th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers becoming the first Senegalese to be drafted since Gorgui Dieng was selected 21st overall in the 2013 Draft.

Both Koloko and Diop participated in Basketball Without Borders global camps – in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Meanwhile, twelve nations are vying for the continent’s five spots in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, with the 3rd window of qualifiers taking place in Abidjan, Alexandria and Kigali, from July 1-3rd. While the events promise intense competition across the board, some top-of-the-table clashes to look out for are the Group C match-up of Cote D’Ivoire against Angola and Congo versus Egypt.

Angola is 2-1 after losing a 17-point lead to Cote D’Ivoire in the last window of qualifiers in front of a home crowd in Benguela. They will be looking for revenge against an undefeated Cote D’Ivoire (3-0) who will have home advantage in this round. A player to
watch in this match-up is former NBA player, Matt Costello. Costello had an incredible debut at the 2021 Afrobasket, leading his team with an average of 16.2 points and 9.2 rebounds.

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DR Congo and Egypt enter group D with a three-way tie with Senegal. This will be the last game in the group and if they both beat Kenya, they could already be into the second round. Egypt beat Congo 62-51 in the first window of the competition but with the announcement by ’22 NBA Champion and Golden State Warriors power forward, Jonathan Kuminga, of his participation in the tournament, the Congolese have a strong chance against the Pharaohs.

Nigeria’s men’s team managed to bring together a squad to participate in the qualifiers despite a tumultuous last couple of months after President Muhammadu Buhari’s government withdrew Nigeria from all international basketball activities for two years. President Buhari reversed the ban after pressure from Nigeria’s international community, including Toronto Raptors President, Masai Ujiri. Ujiri stated in an open letter to NBBF:

“The time for change is now…We need a new slate and a new narrative. To do this, all of the leaders that have held on to the realms of the Nigerian Basketball Federation for the past several years must all step down.”

The push-back came too late for the women’s national team, D’Tigress, who will not be able to compete at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in September, despite qualifying. Their place was given to Mali, who were the next-ranked team in their qualifying group.