Nigeria’s senior men basketball team, D’Tigers had a woeful outing at the ongoing 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Though painful to the team and basketball pundits in the country, their dismal performance may not be due to the players after all.
Facts have begun to emerge why D’Tigers failed to even win a match despite putting in their all in their matches at the Olympics.
ESPN reports that technical issues aside, the team’s focus and preparations were compromised by the off-court problems of administration and logistics, both on their departure to Tokyo and on arrival there, according to one of the players, Chimezie Metu.
This started with their flight from training camp in California, USA, which took way longer than it should have.
“It was supposed to be a 10-hour trip and it was a 30-hour trip because of the lack of attention to detail by our government and our National Olympic Committee,” said the Sacramento Kings centre.
Officials told ESPN that the federation had made arrangements to get the team to Japan on a flight that would have taken them 10 hours. But the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) insisted on booking them on a flight that went via Germany, which meant it took the team about 34 hours to get to Japan, arriving with barely 48 hours to their first game.
The NOC had only made arrangements for three officials to be credentialed. One of those officials was the team general manager, meaning that of Brown’s 10-man staff, only the head coach and assistant Alex Nwora could get into the Games Village.
For the rest, the coach had to go making hotel arrangements right through the night, costing them valuable practice time ahead of their opening game.
“It’s above my head,” the Head Coach, Mike Brown told ESPN. “These people have been working hard for over a month, helping the team. They were in Vegas and part of the historic wins over USA and Argentina, But it was different here.
“During the games you see myself, and one of my assistants, Alex.
“But my other assistants and my masseuse, they are at the hotel and they haven’t been able to attend practice or attend games.
“It’s tough. You have a staff that’s been with you from day one and now you don’t have anybody available. First practice, the players had a play only practice because I couldn’t get a cab from the hotel.
“Other teams have nine guys on the bench and you wish it was like that for you and you just try to figure it out,” Brown said.
Metu was less diplomatic.
“It is extremely difficult to go out there and try to focus on a basketball game when you are dealing with so much stuff off the court. For a lot of athletes here representing Nigeria, we love our country and we are ready to risk it all and put it on the line, but our government and the Nigeria Olympic Committee make it extremely difficult for us to go out there and focus on just performing our sport,” said Metu.
“And I am not just talking about basketball. I am talking about the track athletes, and I am pretty sure everyone knows about the 10 track athletes that were disqualified.
“It had nothing to do with what they did, but it was a lack of attention to detail, and a lack of empathy that has been put in by the staff of the Nigerian Olympic Committee and the Nigerian government.
“The game is what it is, but for 60-some athletes to come out here and fly halfway across the world to be shown a lack of respect and humiliated by our country, I am sure that is something none of us can stand for.”
Meanwhile, from the moment he was appointed head coach, Mike Brown’s objective with the Nigeria men’s basketball team was clear — to become the first African basketball team to win an Olympic Games medal.
Those ambitions were reinforced when — with barely two weeks to the Olympic Games — his team put up two stunning upset wins over number one-ranked USA and number four-ranked Argentina.
These results led to the team earning the number four spot on the FIBA pre-tournament rankings ahead of tip-off, further raising hopes of a historic performance.
But all of that came to zero recently, as Brown watched his team go on a second consecutive fourth-quarter collapse to lose 80-71 to Italy, ending any hopes of moving past pool play, let alone claiming a medal.
In his assessment, Brown did not shy away from opening up about his team’s on the floor shortcomings.
“For us, it’s the same old song. We have not done a good job of taking care of the basketball,” Brown told ESPN.
“We have to do a better job in transition. We were not good in our transition defence, we were also not good at not fouling.
“One of the things we told our guys coming into the tournament is that we have to be smart, we can’t send our opponents to the free throw line and right now they basically doubled our free throws made.
“Just that in itself is a hard number to make up. But if you factor in the way we play with our transition defense and you factor in the way we turn the ball over and how teams have hurt us off our turnover, it makes it really hard.
“They scored 27 points off of turnovers and we talked about that. I think out of 12 teams, there might have been one other team that was worse than us at turnovers.
“On top of that, they really hurt us on the offensive glass in the fourth quarter.
“You have to give them credit. We went on a run, we took the lead, but they stayed composed and they just chipped away at it.”
That inability to take care of the ball was hampered by the lack of a true, elite point guard after a hard season meant that the banged-up Monte Morris could not join the team for the Games.
An Olympic medal aside, one of Brown’s goals is to develop basketball in Nigeria, and despite the failings which have cost his team so dearly at the Games, Brown is unwavering in his determination to help grow the game long term in the country.
“I love being a part of Nigeria basketball and I truly hope the people of Nigeria continue to accept me the way they have because I do think that we can build something special because hurdles like this are going to come up and hopefully we will keep trying to find ways too get around them,” Brown said.
“I enjoy this, and I am looking forward to the day that we are on top.”