12 September 2012

NIGERIA : Nigeria want to be Africa's number one, but youth teams are not competing

Although Nigeria's men’s national team raised some eyebrows in recent months by qualifying to the London Olympics after a successful FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, their youth teams are experiencing a very tough reality as major international tournaments stopped being part of Nigeria's agenda, at least for now.
Since the U18 women's national team finished second at the 2010 Afrobasket in Cairo, their regular international appearances have evaporated.
First, they withdrew from the following year's FIBA U19 World Championship for Women held in Chile. Then they missed out on qualification to the 2011 U16 Afrobasket.
Today, their youth teams’ future remains unknown although the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) argues it has alternative plans in mind.
Moreover, last week’s announcement that Nigeria was not going to take part in the upcoming U18 Afrobasket for Women - to be held later in September in Dakar - indicated that youth teams’ programmes in the country are in serious disarray. It was a worrying announcement, in fact.
That decision means this year’s U18 Nigerian girls will reach the women’s national team age group with a three-year gap of international competition, which might have its negative effects as the women’s team seems to need a re-invention after having missed out on podium places since 2005, and dropping to 26 in the FIBA Women's Ranking, behind, Mali, Senegal and Angola.
Things aren't much different for the U18 men’s team. In the past 10 years, they have gone from being African champions (2002 and 2006) to finishing third in 2008 and then experienced an embarrassing moment as they lined up an over aged player at the 2010 U18 Afrobasket staged in Rwanda and were sanctioned for the breach. Then Nigeria missed out on qualification to the 2012 U18 Afrobasket held in Maputo, Mozambique.
Meanwhile, there has been a positive personal gain, as 2006 U18 Nigerian team top scorer Solomon Alabi has gone from strength to strength and is now playing professionally for the NBA Toronto Raptors.
Clearly, to me, these events raised doubts about the future of home-based Nigerian youngsters, especially when the 2012 Olympic men’s national team lined up only with foreign-based Nigerian players.
I asked the NBBF’s Chairman Tijjani Umar if this players’ generation risks becoming lost given the current circumstances of youth national teams withdrawing from international tournaments.
“No,” he said, explaining that the NBBF is restructuring its development programme, which will include a much needed change of “mentality.”
“This has nothing to do with financial troubles,” he assured.
“This is not a lost generation of players as they can qualify to the next Youth African championships,” he said, adding that they are “focusing on the U16, so we can create viable and competitive teams.”
Today, in order to get international exposure and experience, young Nigerians either have to participate in camps such as Basketball without Borders, join international academies or enroll in US collegiate programmes.
However, the NBBF argues that young players are not forgotten, as they are aiming “to promote fair-play and education among our teams,” Umar said.
Although youth teams are not competing internationally, the NBBF chairman says they “want to be number one in Africa, and want to play in Spain [2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup] and Rio de Janeiro [2016 Olympic Games],” but all the preparation will only start later this year, probably in December.
Meanwhile, there is much speculation surrounding men’s national team head coach Ayodele Bakare’s future.
Umar said: “We have not sacked him nor has he resigned. Our agreement with the coaching staff was up to the Olympics. Coach Bakare is now with his team in the Nigerian league.
“We have been in regular contact with him, which is good for the Nigerian basketball harmony.
“We must recognise that he has given a lot to Nigeria basketball,” Umar said.
Regardless of what the NBBF restructuring programme outlines, Nigerian basketball seems to have two realities between home and foreign-based players as the latter are in clear competitiveness advantage. NBBF has to act fast and well as their youngsters may end up playing internationally for other nations.
Julio Chitunda

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?