The emergence of Nigerian Basketball as a global powerhouse

BOITUMELO RANTAO

“WHO doesn’t want to go to the Olympics? “asks Nigeria’s star and power forward Evelyn Akhator.

The common answer rolls effortlessly off the tongue for most but means so much more to an athlete looking to achieve their life’s goal. Nothing less could be said of the Nigerian Women’s basketball team. A positive atmosphere radiates around the team searching for their second Olympic bid in Tokyo. 

The team’s first Olympic experience came in Athens in 2004 finishing in 11th. After missing the last three Olympics games, they are looking to make an impact following back-to-back triumphs in the last two editions of the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket tournaments.

Photo: FIBA

They remain undefeated on African soil since their group stage opener in 2017 and that momentum will serve them well with bigger goals in sight. Nigeria has put itself in a strong position to contest for medals at the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to take place in 2021.

The simple truth is that to become the best in the world,  D’Tigeress, as Nigeria’s national women’s basketball team is fondly called, will have to beat every other women’s team gunning for the same title. The giant leap from 42nd into 14th, within a span of two years, in the FIBA world rankings, has only fuelled this team as they look forward to breaking into a global top 10 spot.   

Only one team can hold the title of best in the world at any given time and Nigeria has demonstrated the strength and dominance necessary for a successful coup d’état. The USA women’s basketball team has been comfortably seated at the throne after winning eight of the last 11 FIBA Women’s World Cup competitions. 

The FIBA Women’s World Cup competition takes place once every four years. Reigning champions,  the US national team, leads the way with 10 titles in total and has not been threatened for some time. A recent scare suffered by the US national team was in the 2019 Olympic qualification tournament when they were almost upset by Nigeria. In that game, the Nigerians led the way throughout the final and looked set to clinch a historic upset over the defending champions. However, a late 4th quarter surge from the Americans willed them to retain their title with 76-71 win, giving air back to gasping American fans.

The sensational atmosphere of the final sent out a message that this Nigerian team was not a team to be underestimated. The strong talent and will that the Nigerians possess can only help them in their quest for global dominance. Their most recent competitive performance shows how they’ve only begun to display how much they can dominate the African and world of female basketball ranks for years to come.

Photo: FIBA

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