The weather was exceedingly humid last Tuesday afternoon in Surulere, commonly referred to as Lagos sports city.
Surulere houses the national stadium, Teslim Balogun Stadium, games village, National Institute of Sports among many other sporting edifices.
As it is often the case, there was human traffic in and out of the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
There was a steady traffic of athletes who had come to the Stadium to practice and among them were members of the national female basketball team, who were sweating it out as instructions were dished out to them by their coaches.
Though the ladies looked like models fit for a parade on the runways, they were in for something more serious; preparing for 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup.
“You cannot film this session and there are no interviews even after they are done; unless you formally write to the federation (Nigeria Basketball Federation) and you are given the permission to do whatever you want to do, ”Babs Ogunade who is the vice-president of the NBBF said.
Mr Ogunade faulted the tactics of training session being filmed and with the closeness of the World Cup, the NBBF is trying to wade off any distraction from any quarters, including from the media.
This rather stern approach by the federation highlights just how serious the looming Word Cup tournament is being taken.
It was evident that it was no longer business as usual as the best that can be done at the first attempt at getting close to the female national team, D’Tigress who are preparing for the FIBA women’s World Cup billed for Spain was only to savour their training from the stands.
The ladies seemed super charged and the enthusiasm they oozed filled the hall.
If fervour was all that was needed to win the World Cup, then the D’Tigress, as the team is nicknamed are already champions.
But much more is required to conquer the world.
Otis Hughley, the team’s American coach while praising the attitude of the players, agreed that they needed to dig deeper if they planned on having a successful outing at the world cup.
He said, “We have a tough group that has Australia and Turkey, we have taken our fate and ready to face the task head-on.
“If we win and succeed from the group, then there will be no question about how good we are as a team.”
Indeed, a win of any kind even in their group games will be historic for Nigeria as the country was beaten in all her matches in her only previous appearance at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in 2006.
Aside from setting a national record, D’Tigress will also be breaking a continental jinx if they win in Spain as no African team has ever won any match at the world women’s flagship basketball event.
With just a few weeks to the commencement of the World Cup in Tenerife, Spain, Hughley, a former assistant coach of the Sacramento Kings, an NBA side has his mind on fixing one weakness he already identifies in the D’Tigress
“We got to shoot the ball better…If we just shoot the ball better, we can win. We are just as strong if not stronger than those other countries. It is not that they are more intelligent,” he says.
“If we can make shots, then we would shake up the world, Nigeria has talents scattered across America and world, we have not assembled even the very best in this team, but this team is good enough to do well at the World Cup,” the coach asserted.
One of the players who Coach Otis will be relying heavily upon to ‘shoot down’ the rest of the world at the World Cup is Evelyn Akathor who plays her club basketball with the Turkish team, Besiktas.
Akathor told PREMIUM TIMES she is not under any form of pressure ahead of the World Cup even though she is very aware of the weight of expectations on her and her teammates.
She said: ”No I am not under any pressure, when you are the face of a team like you put it , it is true that everybody will be looking forward at what you what to offer or bring to the table but at the end, it is not about the individual but it is about the team.
“When other players go down, the so-called face of the team can’t be different. That said, anytime I am on the court, I try to give my best, in fact, I give 110 per cent on the court and I try to charge my teammates up the best way I can.”
Individual talent aside, the camaraderie among the players will be a plus as the team go out against perhaps more experienced opponents.
D’Tigress forward, Elo Edeferioka, is excited about the possibility of being part of the team to the 2018 FIBA Basketball World Cup for Women in Spain.
Elo, who is full of optimism about what the team can achieve says the entire team is focused on the big task of representing Nigeria well at the world stage.
“Everybody is excited by this new journey to go to Spain for the World Cup and we are ready to make a change. We are looking to go all the way and nothing is going to stop us. We are so focused. We have great coaching staff that are also focused on the job at hand.
“We are looking to go all the way and we are just going to keep working hard,” she continued.
Elo, who averaged 6.5 rebounds and 7.7 points per game in her final season with Yellow Jackets (Georgia Tech women’s team), is excited to be back in the team after missing out of the 2017 Afrobasket party.
“I am very excited to be back with the team I was not able to make it last year because I was in Italy with my college team. We are doing so well. The camp in Atlanta was amazing, we have a great coach and everything has been awesome.”
She said her mission is to make her teammates better and ready for the competition in Spain.
“Being a team is sacrificing for the team. Right now, our focus as a team is to help each other, carry each other along no matter what the outcome may be.”
The prospective World Cup debutant called on Nigerians to remain unflinching in their support for the team.
“We just need their support and prayer throughout this process. At the end of the day, we are going to do what we are supposed to do,” she said.
On his part, the president of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, Musa Kida, strongly believes that the Women’s Senior National team will give a good representation of Africa when the 2018 World cup tips off in Spain.
Kida said the players currently in camp are some of Nigeria’s best players in the world. Having conquered the continent in style a little over a year ago, the NBBF president said he is hopeful of a good performance at the World Cup.
He said despite the 2017 set going on an 8-game unbeaten run to clinch the Afrobasket title after 13 years of endless wait, the present set of players are an upgrade of the 2017 team.
“I think this is one of the best women’s team that we have, going to such a tournament and I am also very hopeful and quite encouraged by what I have seen them do.”
He said only the best players would be picked from those currently in camp.
Kida restated the NBBF’s commitment to giving all the support necessary to the team to put up an excellent show when the world cup starts on Saturday, 22nd of September in Tenerife, Spain.
“My commitment to the country and basketball stakeholders is that we are going to put up a very excellent show, so let the game begin,” he said.
Nigeria women’s basketball team D’Tigress were crowned African champions at the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Championship in Bamako, Mali.
The coach Sam Vincent-led side defeated Senegal 65-48 points in the final to claim their third continental title after winning it in 2003 and 2005.
Following their triumph at the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Championship, D’Tigress secured one of the two qualifying tickets for the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain.
If anyone expects an easy ride at the World Cup, such is in a fool’s paradise suggests, D’Tigress point guard, Kalu Ezinne
Ezinne has demanded extra focus from her teammates as they intensify the preparations for the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup.
The 26-year-old who plays for Vasa Akademia in the Hungarian league said their mission in Lagos is to finish the second phase on a high note in time for World Cup in Spain.
“I expect everybody to have a solid focus. We are ready to finish the second part of the camp and get a solid defence going. I expect that everybody will come in and stay focused because the second phase of the camp is the most important.”
According to the former co-captain of the team, going by the statistics of the friendlies played during the first phase of their camping in Atlanta, the team’s offense has been great.
She expects that they can always get better with more warm-up games lined up by the Nigeria Basketball Federation.
“I do feel the pressure but at the same time, I know that my team has got my back. They can trust me and I can trust them and help me keep being a leader.”
While being cautious about making any promises, Coach Otis assured that the current African Champions will be in good shape before their first game against Turkey.
Nigeria is in group B alongside Turkey, Australia, and Argentina at the World Cup which will be held from 22 to 30 September 2018.