27 February 2006

NIGERIA: Seasoned Comets offer new wine

There will be new wine for seasoned Nigerian champions Ebun Comets in the 2006 season.
The reigning Nigerian champions – Comets won the last championship in 2003 have been unable to retain the core of their experienced players in the intervening years due to a combination of factors and it showed in the results they recorded in the 2005 Vmobile Challenge, when they were beaten to the pole position by Union Bank.

But like old wine, Comets, whose adventure in Akure now seems like a long forgotten memory, are re-grouping with a set of new boys on the block.

Although one or two old hands are still around – Baba Jibril is one of them the new core of Comets is made up of fresh lads, some of them the brightest talent that can be found around here.
From the backcourt to the frontcourt, Ayo Bakare is forging a team that might pull surprises in the League. Granted that Comets might find it tough early in the season, it is possible that the lads might catch on fast enough to cause upsets later on.

The new lads are from far – near. From near rivals, Comets have re-recruited Michael Ohiero, who went on loan to Customs in 2004/2005 season after helping the former Akure based team to clinch the last organised premier league in 2003 and one of the young guns whose intelligent play for the Nigeria Customs won him many fans in 2005.

Top managers expressed their desire in securing the services of Ohiero after his outstanding displays in the Atlantic Conference and Final Six legs of the Vmobile Challenge, and it must be a coup de grâce by Bakare to have re-landed him.

The lad will bring the needed stability to Comets at the backcourt, especially with the loss of Ogoh Odaudu and Prewitt Gagara to foreign teams in South Korea and Bahrain. His good vision will make Comets strong again in their bid to return to the top of the Nigerian game.

To underscore the importance of the backcourt, Bakare acquired another backcourt artist, Oseer Ikyator, who equally stood out for the Niger Potters of Minna, who came second behind Union Bank in the 2005 Vmobile Challenge.

Ikyator will add invaluable contribution to the Comets set up, as they swarm forward in search for precious points.

Also at the backcourt, Waka, as Bakare is fondly called, has added youthful Abdulwahab ‘Jordan’ Yakubu, a Milo graduate who made his name in less than a season with his native team, the Bauchi Nets of Bauchi. The gangly 'Jordan' is well remembered for his audacious shot from the halfway line against Niger Potters in the Savannah Conference of the Vmobile Challenge in Kaduna last year, tying the game at 80-80.
Certainly one for the future, 'Jordan' was among the 10 Nigerian kids who made the trip late last year to the NBA Top 100 Camp to South Africa – and he is only developing.

There is also Deji Egbeyemi, recruited from near Warriors Academy, and another forward, Christian Okpalla of Union Bank, who had little playing time while at the Vmobile Challenge winners last year due to a collection of outstanding talent.

The new lads come in addition to the old guard like Rasheed Bello, one of the best shooting guards around, Tella Malick, Jibril and Dennis Temowe Ebikoro, both on national assignment.

Other young players who will add bite to the Comets collection this season includes Frank Benjamin-Eze, Ehimen Orukpe, Olumide Solanke, and Okechokwu Anonye

In spite of the novelty in the team, Bakare is clear about the way the season will go. “I recognise that this is a young team, but they are ready to learn,” he says, as he pushes them on the training court evry night.

“They are young but they will grow up as the season progresses. They must work hard at this stage so that they will get over their mistakes in the course of the season.”

To Bakare, the tutorials he is giving them should not have been necessary. He explains: “The problem with basketball in Nigeria is that we don’t play structured basketball. We depend on set. With set, you can never beat teams who structure their game.
“We are trying to make these guys learn under a structure; it will take time but we’ll better for it in the end.”

Comets have won the highest number of titles since the commencement of the 7-Up Premier League in 1995, and are currently champions of Nigeria with their victory in the 2002 NNBF Premier League when they went through the entire season without losing a game.

The Punch On Sunday

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