01 February 2012

NIGERIA : London not too far away

LAGOS (Olympic Qualifying Tournament) - Nigeria's chances of making it to the 2012 Olympic Games are bigger than a lot of people think.

At least that's according to national team coach Ayodele Bakare, whose optimism is based on the country'
vast pool of experienced talent to draw from, and an improved Nigerian Basketball Federation administration.
Nigeria, despite a chaotic start to their preparations last summer, won the bronze medal at Afrobasket 2011 in Madagascar to book a place in the 12-team FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which is to be staged in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas in the first week of July.
Three places for the London Games will be at stake.Nigeria will take part in the event for the first time.
Which teams are in the best position to make it to London?
"Nigeria, for sure," Bakare said to FIBA.com.
"Then, Lithuania and Greece."
Angola, Jordan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and hosts Venezuela are the other teams in the mix.
Bakare, who has coached Nigerian national teams at all levels, including youth and women, took over last year after the resignation of Nigeria coach John Lucas, a great player in the NBA who also coached in the league.
Bakare says Nigeria were in Orlando, Florida, preparing for the Afrobasket when everything fell apart.
"We were having a training camp when suddenly we had no coach, no players," Bakare said.
"The original team was completely broken.
"We had to call some players who were already on holidays.
"The way my players made a commitment, I just have to give them credit."
The team, under Bakare and led by Ime Udoka, travelled to Madagascar and finished third after a 77-67 victory over Ivory Coast.
Bakare says that Nigeria's prospects have improved since Afrobasket 2011, when the national team "had many administrative problems" to overcome.

Looking for reinforcements
Bakare believes the Nigerians have the potential for a much stronger squad than the one that showed up last year in Antananarivo.
"We keep monitoring regularly potential players for our national team," he said.
"We have a number of players based in Europe and the USA.
"Some of them were born outside Nigeria, but all of them hold Nigerian passports.
"This increases our chances to select a strong team."

Familiar foes
In Caracas, Nigeria could cross swords with three teams they have met before: Angola, Korea and Venezuela.
In 1998, they celebrated their first-ever win in a FIBA World Championship game by hammering Korea, 89-65.
Nigeria lost 84-77 to Venezuela at the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Angola and Nigeria have faced each other at the Afrobasket over the years.
Bakare expects the strongest opponents to come from the old continent.
"The European teams are always tough to beat," he said.
Nigeria can draw on impressive results from years gone by to serve as inspiration.
Six years ago in Japan was one of the most famous, when Nigeria prevailed 82-75 victory over Serbia and Montenegro to make worldwide headlines.
"We will surprise some people," Bakare said.
"We are doing everything to get all players together, and the federation is committed to giving into the players' demands."
Might the obsession with foreign-based players affect home-based players' motivation?
"Clearly our national championship has no players of the quality of those in the main leagues around the world, but it does not mean we disregard them," Bakare said.
"Our policy is to keep at least two home-based players in the national team.
"If you recall, when the US Dream Team appeared at the 1992 Olympics, they used one college player (Christian Laettner) among the NBA professionals.
"This policy applies to Nigerian players who have left the country in the last 12 months, and everybody is happy with it.
"Home-based players react positively to this policy as we seek to name the best players for the national team, as everybody wishes us to do well."
Nigeria are second to Angola in the FIBA Africa Rankings, and 21st in the FIBA World Rankings, yet they have never played in an Olympic tournament.

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