Can Pillars, Union Rank Redeem Nigeria's Image?

•Pillars’ coach… Ahmed

•Pillars' coach... Ahmed

Kano Pillars of Kano and Union Bank of Lagos are the two teams that would represent Nigeria in this year’s African Clubs Champions Cup which will take place later in the year at a yet to be named location.

Both teams got the tickets to represent Nigeria at the Africa’s flagship tourney by virtue of finishing first and second at the just concluded Nigeria’s basketball league’s National Final four tourney held inside the Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos.

Nigerian club sides have not had a good showing in recent outings at the highest caliber men’s basketball competition for African basketball clubs organised by the FIBA-Africa.

The last time a Nigerian team mounted the podium at the tourney was in 2006 when Dodan Warriors of Lagos finished third when the championship was held in Lagos.

Since then, it has been a case of from bad to worse for every other teams that had represented the country at the tourney.

Pillars finished in 9th position when they represented Nigeria last year in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

With this recent dismal performance, pundits and many stakeholders of the sport in the country are beginning to ponder if Pillars and Union Bank can redeem Nigeria’s image at this year’s edition.

Considering the performances of both teams in the just ended domestic league, there is no doubt that Pillars and Union Bank are the best two teams in the country in the last 12 months.

The coach Sani Ahmed led Pillars became champions of the Savannah conference without losing a match in the entire regular season and during the conference’s playoffs tourney.

For Union Bank, led by coach Ayinla Johnson, they came top during the Atlantic conference regular season and also finished ahead of Warriors in the conference’s final four playoffs.

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It was not a surprise to pundits of the domestic league when both teams finished first and second at the National final four playoffs which ended in Lagos last weekend.

However, critics of the sport believe for Pillars and Union Bank to finish on the podium or become champions in Brazzaville, a lot of work still have to be done by both Nigerian teams.

According to former Islanders coach, Patrick Omo-Osagie the two teams would need to reinforce their current rosters for them to have a chance to excel at the annual championship.

“There is no doubt that Union Bank and Pillars are the best two teams in the country right now in terms of quality players in their rosters and also what they were able to achieve in the just ended season.

“But the question still lies in what they would be able to offer when they go out their to represent the country at the African clubs championship. Personally, I think the two teams still have a lot of work to do on the teams for them to compete favourably when they take on the likes of Primeiro de Agosto of Angola,  Petro Atlético of Angola, ES Sahel of Tunisia and Al Ahly of Egypt at the flagship tournament,” Omo-Osagie said.

Corroborating Omo-Osagie’s view on the huge task ahead of them at the African clubs championship, coach Ahmed of Pillars, while speaking after their 86-75 victory against Union Bank on Saturday, said their plan is to bring in one or two players to fortify the team and begin preparation in earnest.

Ahmed, who is also the Nigeria men’s national team assistant coach, said: “I am happy we are able to a secure continental ticket once again this year. We will take a look at any area that needs fortification and see if we can bring in quality players into the team.

“Our aim is to finish on the podium this time around after the 9th position we finished last year.”

Union Bank’s coach Johnson has also promised to assemble a strong team that would be different from the one that finished second in the league.The former national team captain said: “Definately we are going to bring hungry players that have gut into the team before we begin campaign on the continent. It is going to be a different ball game out there and I hope to get my point guard, Louis Edem back in the team.”

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