Nigeria’s Chances Are Bright In Venezuela


Michael Umeh is an American-born Nigerian player from Houston, Texas, who is spending his fifth season playing professional basketball in Europe, Germany, Spain and now again in Germany for New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig. The 27-year-old had also played at the last two FIBA Africa Championships for D’Tigers of Nigeria, helping them to finish fifth, after losing to Cameroon in the quarter finals in 2009 in Libya and won third place at the 2011 AfroBasket in Madagascar. That result gave Nigeria a spot in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT), where D’Tigers led by Ayo Bakare in Group B with European powers, Lithuania and host nation, Venezuela.

One of the key Bakare’s key players will be Umeh, who started the season with Spanish top flight side Blancos de Rueda Valladolid before leaving Espana and returned to Germany, where he played two seasons with LTi Giessen 46ers, following a collegiate career at University of Nevada-Las Vegas. caught up with Umeh at Braunschweig’s recent Beko BBL game at s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg where he spoke about the state of the German game, Nigeria’s chances in Venezuela, African basketball in general and what it would be like for Nigeria to be at the 2012 Olympics in London

You are back in Germany after leaving Spanish club in December. What happened there?

I just got in a wrong situation.There’s a certain way I’m used to playing and I just had to find that situation.

The German BBL has set the goal to be the top domestic league in Europe by the year 2020. The main model for the Germans is Spain. You were in Spain and are now back in Germany. How would you compare the German and Spanish leagues?

I just see a lot more teams with a lot bigger budgets willing to spend more in Spain. The quality of the game in Spain – how they move the ball and the way they do things – has always been the model, due to how they structure their system.

The domestic players are very good. They are very smart. That’s the only difference I see. The quality in Germany is probably still the same. It needs to improve a little bit more. But it’s always a good league. And I’ve seen some improvements.

Moving onto the Nigerian national team now, the draw for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament is out and Nigeria were drawn into Group B with Lithuania and hosts Venezuela. Your thoughts on the group?

It’s a tough draw. Good quality teams. But I think if we prepare well, we will have just as good a chance as anybody. I’m not too familiar with Venezuela but I’m sure they are preparing just as we are.

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Nigeria could end up facing Greece, Jordan or Puerto Rico in the quarter final.What do you think about this?

Well, it is possible. I believe that If you’re playing well and things are clicking, then you will always have the chance.

In Madagascar last summer, African superpowers, Angola were beaten by Tunisia in the final. What does it mean for African basketball?

African basketball is very big about preparation. And I think the reason Angola went down was because Tunisia were well prepared. They were a quality team when you talk about the quality of the game and how they move the ball, the spacing, how well they execute and create their advantages. These are those things that win you basketball games. And African basketball is not known for all these. We’re more known for physical play. But there’s not a lot of smart play. That’s the way Tunisia played and that’s why they got the win.

What does Nigeria have to do to qualify for the Olympics?

Just be prepared early, have things in order and hopefully the best guys will come to play for the country. We need to make sacrifice for the country. Usually we are always competitive enough to get it done, One of our better players did come and we had just as good a chance as anybody. You have to put together the right team. Not the right players.

You have been to two African Championships, what would it mean to be at the Olympics this summer?

It will be a dream come true. I told myself some years back that I would want this opportunity when I am 27years old. I’m 27 years now and the opportunity is here, we just have to take advantage of it.

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