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Is D’Tigers Second Straight Loss The End Of Their Olympic Dreams?

D'Tigers vs Germany,

July 28, (THEWILL) – A 99-92 loss against Germany, the second so far, was not how many thought Nigeria’s basketball fortunes will turn out at the XXXII Summer Games at Tokyo in Japan, especially given the star power calling the shots and powering a squad composed of some of the best talents available to the country from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and beyond.

This was more so as they were coached by the very efficient and result-oriented Mike Brown, the Assistant Coach of former NBA champions, Golden State Warriors, who took the job with the single-minded purpose of letting the world reckon with the tenaciousness of the Nigerian spirit and who assembled this competent set of players to bring that about.

The basketball team Brown put together was taken with the objective of making a determined target of changing the African narrative at the Olympics, where teams from the continent have generally lagged behind their opponents. There was a goal to better the one in four wins from the previous Olympics of London 2012 (against Tunisia) and Rio 2016 (against Croatia) and go far enough to make their preparations count.

Those preparations began at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the 18th tournament of the FIBA Basketball World Cup for men’s national basketball teams. The tournament was hosted in China and served as qualification for the 2020 Summer Olympics. As such the top two teams from each of the Americas and Europe, and the top team from each of Africa, Asia and Oceania, alongside the tournament’s host Japan qualified for the Olympics.

In Group B, composed of Argentina, Russia, Nigeria and South Korea, Nigeria beat South Korea 108-66 in the final group game after losing to Russia 82–77 and 81-94 to Argentina. It was enough to progress to the tie-breakers where D’Tigers rose to the occasion to beat Ivory Coast 83–66 and defeat China 86-73.

Although Nigeria finished overall 17th, D’Tigers qualified for the Summer Olympics as the top team from FIBA Africa from that 2019 World Cup. Since then, Brown was brought in to carve out a squad from the selection of Nigeria’s best and they showed their mettle in the pre-Olympics exhibition matches in Las Vegas by ending the unbeaten run of the previously invincible best team in the world, USA Basketball.

Before losing in their third exhibition match against the Boomers of Australia, D’Tigers of Nigeria followed up their shocking upset of Team America with victory over the fourth best team in the world: Argentina. It was a confirmation of the readiness of the Nigerian team to take on the world as they headed to Tokyo for the Summer Games trying to put that last heavy loss to Australia quickly behind them and fourth on FIBA’s Power Rankings.

D’Tigers were not fast enough because they meet Australia again soon after, in the opening game of the Olympics male basketball events. They ended with their second loss in as many games against the Aussies with notable observations of a high possession turnover and carelessness with the free throws, which was not so much of an issue leading into the Olympics.

As painful as the loss was to the entire team and the Brown-led coaching staff, preparations to ensure that the team bounced back and quickly got its Olympic objectives back on track began immediately after the loss. The team knew they carried the hopes of millions of sports-loving Nigerian fans at the sporting showpiece especially in the absence of the male and female football teams.

But, D’Tigers still could not get a win and registered their second loss, by a slimmer margin this time, to imperil their progress at the Summer Games. In their second consecutive loss, Milwaukee Bucks Nigerian basketball player Jordan Nwora turned up an inspiring solo performance. Yet, his 33 points haul was insufficient to swing the result in D’Tigers favour.

For the second straight game, an uninspiring final quarter made it a day to forget especially after all the efforts the team put into their second round tie. The began as a team that knew the stakes were high after that opening loss to Australia and fought valiantly after ending behind in the first quarter to bring the scores to level out at 50-50 at half time.

The Germans, knowing the danger Nwora posed to the progress of D’Tigers, purposely attacked his game closing in on him every time and not allowing his scoring of 58% of his three-pointers in the first half to continue. Miye Oni also racked up double figures for the D’Tigers, but the Germans had four players on double figures, with Johannes Voightman the top scorer with 19 points.

And so, what ought to have been a different level of performance and a breakaway from the chequered past of Nigeria’s participation in the Games will be more of the same. The progress of the squad to the next round will come down to the typical staple of Nigerian sports: permutations. It comes down to calculations and if’s and but’s even as it must be conceded that the coach Brown-led team did enough to not be disgraced.

For D’Tigers to continue their Olympic dreams, after two consecutive losses, they have Australia to thank for beating Italy on Wednesday. Now, they will have to put everything into beating Italy in the last group game to keep alive their chances and their reckoning as Africa’s best at these Games and beyond.