How D’Tigers Finally Broke Afrobasket Jinx
Stories by Chibuike Chukwu / LAGOS
After D’Tigers lost to the host country, Dakar in 1997, in its first final appearance of the Afrobasket, the question has been when will Nigeria win this championship? This question became more deafening after the team failed attempts in 1999 and 2003, losing on both occasions to Angola in the finals.
Hopes of winning the championship in 2005 was also dashed by Angola after ending D’Tigers good run in the semis.
But, on Sunday, in Rades, Tunisia, the elusive title was won by D’Tigers with a 74-65 defeat of Angola in the final.
Angola had constituted a big nightmare to Nigeria’s quest to winning the title having denied D’Tigers the opportunity several times.
For example, before D’tigers triumph on Sunday, Angola had met Nigeria on nine previous occasions, winning all.
In the 1987 in Tunisia, Nigeria lost Angola 87-67 in their group A game. It was also the same sad story two years later in Algiers, eliminating Nigeria 74-56 in the semi-final.
In the 1999 edition, which Angola hosted, Angola beat Nigeria once again 64-57 in the final.
In 2001 in Morocco, the 11-time champions once again showed its superiority over Nigeria 54-43.
The 2003 edition was not different, as Angola stopped Nigeria in the final 85-65. It was the same story in 2005 ending Nigeria’s good run 67-62 in the semis. Angola also defeated Nigeria 93-85 in 2009 edition in Group E.
In 2011, the multiple champions also humbled Nigeria 76-68 in the semifinal.
So in that final match in Rades, on Sunday, D’Tigers defeated two of its perennial rivals en route emerging African champions.
After the 2013 debacle with Cote d’ Ivoire ending D’Tigers good run in the quarters, the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) did away with the technical crew led by Ayo Bakare, a veteran of several championships. It went for American, William Voights.
The NBBF prepared the team in France and arrived Tunisia three days to the start of the championship. And in doing this, except one players, the remaining 11 players have played the championship before.
D’Tigers was not convincing in its opening game, though it defeated Central Africa Republic 88-63. D’Tigers could not be assessed in its second game against debutant, Gabon, though it won 98-59. It was its last group game against Tunisia that truly exposed the team losing 59-70. This loss seems to be what the team needed for the players to raise their game.
Against Mozambique, D’Tigers left no one in doubt as it shot-down the South Africa side 88-47. In the quarters, Gabon that created the first upset of the championship beating Cape Verde lost to Nigeria 88-64.
It was the semis against Senegal that Nigeria exhibited its champion stuff hitting Senegal 88-79 in over time, the only game that went over-time.
The final against its albatross was something else. Angola expectedly raced to 7-1 lead before Nigeria levelled up the game at 14 all. D’Tigers defence prevented Angola’s one-guard, Carlos Morais from attacking the basket and was constrained to making forced shots.
Despite missing Ike Diogu, all through the championship, Nigeria crashed the boards offensively 19 times to Angolas nine while Angola’s total defensive rebound was 25.
In al D’Tigers killed Angola from the charity line hitting 33 of 47, while Angola made only eight of 16 attempts.
According to former coach, Ayo Bakare, D’Tigers triumphed on the strength of continuity and showed tremendous improvement after Tunisia defeated it.
“The team improved tremendously after that last group game against Tunisia.
“You see, apart from Olaseni Lawal and Mike Gbinije, all members of the team are the ones we have been using; there is continuity in the team and I think that helped them a lot.
“Secondly, there was no injury worry unlike the last edition. You also know that D’Tigers has never had a bad coach before, so all these accounted for that victory.”
In being crowned African champions, the Nigerians also qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Oguchi was rewarded for his impressive tournament and huge individual performance in the final by receiving the Most Valuable Player award.
The 29-year-old headlined the All-Star Five which also included his Nigeria team-mate Al-Farouq Aminu, Carlos Morais of Angola, Tunisia’s Makram Ben Romdhane and Gorgui Dieng of Senegal.
Oguchi said: “It’s the best moment of my life, to be able to come here after missing the last AfroBasket, and do this with my brothers, its amazing.”
“I’m happy to be able to share this moment with them and for me personally, it’s just really great.”
Meanwhile, second-place Angola joined third- and fourth-place Tunisia and Senegal in booking their places for the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs).