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Olympics: ‘Basketball Will Make Podium Appearance in Tokyo‘

Suraj Yusuf
Suraj Yusuf

July 19, (THEWILL) – Arguably the youngest Nigerian to have served on the Board of the Nigerian Basketball Federation, Suraj Yusuf, talks about the country’s male and female basketball teams to the Tokyo Olympic Games and the achievements of the Engr Musa Kida-led board in this exclusive interview with ADENIYI OLUGBEMI. Excerpts:

Four years ago, the North-West nominated you as its representative on the Board of the NBBF. What are the unique qualities that earned you its trust?

What you are asking me is similar to the question I asked myself four years ago when I was to be nominated as the representative of the North-West on the NBBF board that was dissolved last month. My findings was that my modest contributions to the development of the game, which I didn’t know at the time was huge in the reckoning of basketball stakeholders within the zone, was what made them to saddle me with this worthy responsibility.

Things like committing my hard earned resources and sometimes sourcing sponsorship to organise kiddies’ basketball clinics and camps, organising competitions and supporting basketball teams within the zone to attend competitions, which I was doing with pleasure, is what people saw and unanimously decided to endorse me as the zonal representative for the NBBF board. I had never dreamed of it.

Before I was nominated, my thinking was that such a position was beyond me, as qualifications for the position may require certain pedigrees or credentials like age, financial and societal status, etc. Here I am today, contributing and adding value to the development of basketball at the highest level.

How eventful was the tenure of your board?

If I may borrow your words, , it has been an eventful year for basketball in Nigeria so far. We set out with massive successes recorded in the Afro Basketball Women’s Championship, which we won back-to-back in Mali between 2017 and 2019. The U-17 boys too, did not do badly, finishing in second position in Tunisia in 2017. The 2019 edition of the competition held in Senegal saw Nigeria triumphing over the hosts. We went to Lome, Togo and won the 3×3. The story was the same for the Salamatu Mairiga U-18 boys 3×3 in Mali.

D’Tigresses also participated at the Olympics qualifiers in Belgrade and at the World Cup in Tenerife, Spain, narrowly losing to the world super power, the America Dream Team, in the quarter finals to finish eighth in the world. D’Tigers and D’Tigresses qualified together for the Olympic Games. These are great achievements recorded on the international scene.

On the home front, the board programmes ran successfully, except for a distraction from a tiny clique that temporarily stalled the men’s premier league. But, at last, the Kida-led NBBF board triumphed as the court ruled in our favour. Even with the distraction, we came up with the novel idea of The President’s League Tournament to save the players from being match rusty. Royal Hoppers won and represented Nigeria at the African Basketball League in Rwanda. Another milestone recorded by the board was the five-year sponsorship of Total Division One and Two Basketball League.

Podium appearances by the Nigeria basketball teams at the Tokyo Olympics will be an icing on the achievements recorded by our board. I am very optimistic about this and D’Tigers have rekindled our hopes when they ran over Team USA, who are current Olympics champions, in an exhibition game played at Las Vegas, Nevada.

Significantly, the victory was the first for Nigeria against the Americans after suffering back-to-back defeat in 2012 and 2016. Forty-eight hours after the record victory over the U.S team, D’Tigers also defeated Argentina, ranked fourth-best team in the world, in another exhibition game.

D’Tigers is a collection of foreign-based Nigerian players. Is basketball now following the trend in football where the national team is exclusively reserved for foreign-based players?

This, I would say, is not intended to shut any category of player out of the national team. Without holding brief for the team’s handlers, I think merit is the parameter that determines who makes the team. If you recall that the NBBF President, Engineer Musa Kida, in his inaugural speech dwelled extensively on grassroots basketball, an agenda that every member of the Federation imbibed and took back to our different zones. The President specifically mentioned that home-based basketball players would be given every opportunity they deserve to rub shoulders with their foreign counterparts and I can proudly say the Federation has done wonderfully well in this regard.

I can vividly recalled that four home-based players were part of the D’Tigers that participated in the 2017 Afro basketball championship in Tunisia. The same applies to the D’Tigress, where the likes of, Nkechi, Nkem, Okoro and Tina, from the Zenith Bank sponsored female league made the team.

Prior to the World Cup camping and preparations, a sizeable number of home- based players were invited to the camp and they gave a good account of themselves. Personally, I think the stalemate in the Nigeria Basketball Men’s Premier League, was a disservice that robbed the home-based players the opportunity to be at same level with their foreign counterparts.

Why was it difficult for basketball stakeholders to settle their disputes amicably instead of heading to court?

The irreconcilable difference you are going back to, like I earlier said, is a mere distraction to our board. Now that a judicial pronouncement has put an end to it, what is expected of all genuine stakeholders of the game is to close ranks for the good of the game. This, I assure you, would be on display during the next Federation elections.

What value(s) did your presence on the NBBF board add to basketball in the North-West?

I would have suggested that you go round the zone for an independent assessment of my scorecard as their representative on the NBBF board, but, since you have given me the opportunity, I will gladly grab it to blow my trumpet.

I earlier told you how I earned the confidence of basketball stakeholders to represent the zone on the NBBF board, this, from day one, convinced me that I need to do more than I was doing with my meagre resources, contacts and intellect.

The state championship events that I normally organise received a boost during my tenure on the NBBF board. The youth camp that was aimed at ‘catching them young,’  where I invited notable coaches across Nigeria, were also stepped up across the zone. I also organised 3×3 competitions within the zone.

To address the disturbing trend in which there is a dearth of FIBA badge referees in the zone, with Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Katsina States not having a single referee to officiate basketball (not FIBA), I organised a referee refresher course early this year in Kano, with the support of Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, the Chairman, Kano State Sports Commission, who graciously granted the use of the Kofar Mata Indoor Sports Hall for the clinic. FIBA badge referee instructors were invited and they taught 56 participants stuff, such as how to handle the whistle, how to run on the court and the rules of the game.

My imprint, in terms of financial support to clubs in the zone that participated in NBBF organised competition, was the first of its kind in the zone.

Can you confidently beat your chest and say that you have been a worthy representative who deserves another term on the NBBF board?

If I can do all that I catalogued as a first timer on the NBBF board, I will leave the rest to the stakeholders within the zone to decide whether I have kept fate with the trust they reposed in me or otherwise. If I can do this little as the youngest ever in the annals of the NBBF board, I honestly deserve the backing of the zone in my return bid. I have identified lack of sponsorship as one of the challenges facing basketball in the zone and plans are already ongoing to attract notable sponsors for different categories of competitions, clinics/seminars at the state and zonal levels.