July 31, (THEWILL) – The answer to an earlier question THEWILL posed about the chances of Nigeria’s male Olympics basketball team after their second straight loss at the XXXII Summer Games came swiftly when D’Tigers lost their third and final group game 80-71 to Italy in Saturday’s events. The end of the road had come for the Basketball hopes of Team Nigeria.
It was not the exciting Games that their star cast of players and pre-Olympics exhibition show in Las Vegas promised. Worse still, it fell short of their fourth-best team of the 12 countries that qualified ranking conferred on them by the world basketball governing body, FIBA, heading into Tokyo, Japan.
Against Italy, there was an opportunity in the match to at least mark D’Tigers’ participation in the postponed Summer Games with one win to make all the efforts of assembling the best Nigeria can offer and the high goals of coach Mike Brown worthwhile, but, as has been the case for the last group games, a poor fourth quarter gave the victory to Italy.
The Italians took advantage of a 14-0 run in that final quarter to round up their points to 80 and ensure that irrespective of what happened in the other match between the Boomers of Australia and Team Germany, Nigeria was not going to go beyond Group B of the Basketball event.
There was for D’Tigers, for the third game, that lack of clinical finishing that often distinguishes winners at this high level of competitions and yet, the players did their utmost. Chimezie Metu scored 22 points to lead the individual score and was closely followed by Jordan Nwora, who added 20 for Nigeria.
Jahlil Okafor was next with 14 points but all of these were insufficient to give them victory and for D’Tigers to have a shot at progressing to the quarter-finals.
Yet, Nigeria led 63-56 at the end of the third quarter. They even added an extra point to their lead before play resumed in the last quarter. Michele Vitali, received a technical penalty for trying to slap the ball away before it was inbounded to start the fourth quarter, giving Nigeria an eight-point lead into that quarter.
But, Italy went on a scoring run without a single point for D’Tigers in seven of the 10 final quarter minutes. Nico Mannion, Italy’s second highest scorer made a 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left on the scoreboard to effectively seal the win for Italy and knock out Brown’s D’Tigers after their brilliant victories over the U.S. and Argentina before the Games.
The Italian Nicolo Melli scored a high 15 points for the opponents followed by Mannion’s 14. Achille Polonara added 13, Simone Fontecchio scored 12 and Stefano Tonut finished with 10.
The pain of the ouster was an opportunity for D’Tigers highest scorer in the game, 24-year-old NBA’s Sacramento Kings power forward, Metu, to vent deep-seated frustration with the way the organisation of their entire participation for the Games was poorly handled by the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC).
Metuh railed on about how the basketball team sent to Saitama, the capital and the most populous city of Saitama Prefecture in Japan where they were based for the tournament, had difficulty obtaining proper credentials. He also did not hesitate to bring up Team Nigeria’s 10 track and field athletes that were disqualified on Wednesday as an example.
His frustration was evident when he said: “They were disqualified and they had nothing to do with it. What there was a lack of attention to detail and a lack of empathy for the hard work that has been put in by us athletes. … For 60-some athletes to come here and fly halfway across the world and be disrespected and humiliated by our country … it’s a lack of attention to detail by our government.”
Coach Brown also had some misgivings about the poor organisation and shortcomings of the NOC as four members of his staff, with whom he handled his coaching commitments and who made the trip to Japan, were never allowed in the Olympic village because of credential and paperwork issues.
Another issue that Metu blamed on a lack of organisation was the poor handling of their flights. Their trip to Japan wound up being a 30-hour ordeal instead of the planned 10-hour flight and it cut into their schedule of training, rest and preparations, a negative that did not affect the preparations of their opponents.
Brown, who took a personal interest in making a difference with the team, had started a foundation earlier this year seeking financial help for the men’s basketball program. He was reticent about his opinions on the shoddy handling of the organising and did not say much more than: “I don’t know why it is this way.”
D’Tigers are still Africa’s highest ranked team and the lessons from this can help in improving their fortunes to make a stronger force. That will depend on factors such as the retention of the talents in the present squad, hoping that many will not quit due to the frustrations of Tokyo 2020 and hoping that Brown remains in charge.
With better organisation from the sports administration in Nigeria, there is a promise for better years ahead for basketball in Nigeria that will make the bitter pill of the failure to live up to the incredibly high expectations of this year’s Games easier to swallow.