6th February, 2012
Coach Ayodele Bakare of the Nigerian senior men’s basketball team, D’Tigers, believes the country’s chances of making it to the 2012 Olympic Games are brighter than what a lot of people think
Bakare said that D’Tigers will shock the world at the upcoming Olympic Qualifier tournament in Venezuela in July.
Bakare,who took D’Tigers to the last Afrobasket championship in Madagascar, based his optimism on the country’s vast pool of experienced players and an improved adminstration of the game by the Nigerian Basketball Federation, NBBF.
Bakare said Nigeria stand a better chance of securing one of the three tickets for the London Olympics at the qualifying tourney. He also tipped Lithuania and Greece to grab the other two tickets.
Bakare has been in charge of the Nigerian national teams at all levels, including the youth and women’s teams. He took over D’Tigers last year after the resignation of Coach John Lucas, a great player in the NBA.
Bakare said that the current D’Tigers have strong potentials than the team that played at the Afrobasket in Antananarivo last year.
“We keep monitoring 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 of select ing a strong team.”
In Caracas, Nigeria have been drawn in a tough group that include Lithuania and hosts, Venezuela.
Nigeria lost 84-77 to Venezuela at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, in Japan.
Bakare expects the strongest challenge to come from the European team,who are currently ranked sixth in the world and recently finished third in the European championship.
“The European teams are always tough to beat but I can assure you that our team are not scared of them” he said.
Nigeria can draw inspiration from their past impressive results.
Their campaign in Japan six years was the most memorable experience , when Nigeria had 82-75 victory over Serbia and Montenegro to make worldwide headlines.
“We will surprise some people and qualify for the tournament. Right now we are doing everything possible to get all the players together, and the federation is committed to meeting the players’ demands,” Bakare said.
Nigeria have always relied mostly on foreign-based players for major championship in the past.
Allaying fear that such obsession might affect home-based players’ motivation, Bakare said:“Clearly our home-based players are not of the same quality with those in the main leagues around the world, but that does not mean we should disregard them,.
“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 pick the best players for the national team,” Bakare said.
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.
Aside Nigeria, Angola, Jordan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, Greece and Venezuela are the other teams vying for three spots available at the tourney.