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I was just nearly the only one who didn’t play the game of basketball growing up in my family. But I just didn’t want to as I preferred playing tennis. I schooled in Nigeria at a time sports was a major curriculum and so in Bendel State I learnt the basics of every game because all of them were available to us. The facilities may not have been so fantastic but I didn’t need to watch a SuperSport channel to learn playing field hockey; I had tried it in school.
But in Jos I stayed tight with my tennis and that ensured that I was accommodated officially in my second and third years. The only good basketball court then was next to the tennis courts and a great majority of my friends were from Benue State. And there was hardly any Benue guy then that could not play basketball very well. Indeed I still remember a match the university played against Plateau Peaks and Idoma was the official language in court as the starting five and the next three were all from Otukpo. I watched practically every of their training session and naturally stayed on with the game when I became a sports reporter.
Nigerian basketball was good when I began the coverage of basketball way back in 1995. My first trip outside the country came off football but the first time I flew a chartered DC 10 plane was on the way to Dakar ’97 African Nations Basketball Championship and the first time I got outside Africa was to Greece ’98 Basketball World Championship. I have made a million more trips doing other things but I will always have sweet memories of those two trips.
The reason I have gone historical is to properly underline how far I have come with this game. In Nigeria, this game can actually compete very well with football. The organisers don’t need much of government support to excel. In any case they have achieved so much without such government patronage.
This is a sport in Nigeria where players, club owners, coaches and referees are very educated and as such you would imagine that the sector should market itself well compared to other areas like boxing and football where most of the participants are street boys and semi-illiterates. Please no insult intended. I remember that the Nigerian team to the 1995 African championship in Algeria was coached by Ayo Bakare (Waka) and Toyin Sonoiki (Noik) with Sam Ahmedu as the chairman of the technical committee. All three are lawyers. You would imagine that the American NBA should be rubbing off so much on the Nigerian league but it is not the case. The only thing close to America is that the players are quick to speak slangs with Texas accent even when they just manage to travel to Togo and back.
Since 1996 there has been one form of fight or the other till date. These fights have only retarded the growth of this lovely game here. Alhaji U. K Umar’s last tenure began with an election that nearly snuffed out the life of Nigerian basketball. When Gyang Buba took over he inherited the fight but he continued with a great show of maturity in his administration and that reduced the squabbles to the barest minimum. When he became the Comptroller General of Customs, he used his influence to develop this game. It was a very successful tenure. The women won the African Cup twice, the Africa Games gold; they were at the Athens Olympics and became the first African team to win a medal. Nigeria’s Mfon Udoka was in the competition’s Best XI. The men couldn’t win the Africa trophy but they were always in the top three and their outing at the 2006 World Championship in Japan remains the country’s best ever at that level.
Now the current board led by Tijjani Umar also fought from the start and unfortunately the fight has not ended. The difference is that while Buba had people to tell him to calm down and let everyone be involved so that basketball can be the winner, and he accepted such ideas, all those around TJ appear to be warriors only. Either nobody is telling him the truth to calm down and find a way forward or he is not listening to anybody.
It is pathetic today that the African Basketball League holding in Lagos is being treated like total rivalry and the reaction of the current NBBF board has badly affected the DStv League. People say Sam Ahmedu is troublesome; yes he can be, but he can also give all his time to a basketball project and he has quality ideas about the game. He was of the same character under Buba but the CG with all his influence never applied brute force; he used wisdom and Nigerian basketball worked. The Zenith Bank League and the DStv that began then are still running but I am worried with what is happening with the men’s league and how far the sponsors can endure.
I believe that the current board members can benefit more if they allow their ego to simmer down and let men with ideas and influence like Buba, U.K Umar, the proprietor of Dolphins, Wale Aboderin, Musa Kida and Alhaji Yaro just to mention but a few, get closer. Aboderin has enough facilities and means to take care of the female national teams especially the age-grade teams but he has been left out. Every help he has rendered has been done unofficially for the sake of the players.
Ugo Udezue and Obinna Ekezie have great ideas with the ABL and I guess the least we can do is to support them and pull out formally if we discover it is an undercover venture for other purposes. Those involved with the ABL must also recognise constituted authority and give the NBBF board their due honour. I am sure some would have said ‘is it not TJ? We can handle him’ but such attitude can’t help us. It is heart rendering that Waka, who has been very loyal to the NBBF, would also run to the opposition side. It definitely means something is wrong.
These high horses, ego and self-serving behaviours must be knocked off if we want Nigerian basketball to grow.
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Source: Punch News