Nigerian teams now among world's best, says Ujiri
NBA title-winning manager, Masai Ujiri has tipped Nigeria’s senior national basketball team, D’Tigers, to come good at the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup billed to hold in China from August 31 to September 15.
Ujiri, who says Nigeria has become one of the best basketball playing nations of the world, also commended the board of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) for putting up programmes that have seen the national teams rising above the African continent to enviable positions among the best teams in the world.
Ujiri, who is in Lagos on a trophy tour after leading his team, the Toronto Raptors’ to their first ever NBA title in their franchise history, said, “I think the national team has done very well so far because Nigeria has the right talent. The only thing that has always come to question is our organisation and preparation for major tournaments.
“I have been in touch with the NBBF President, Musa Kida, Col. Sam Ahmedu (Rtd) and Coach Alex Nwora. In fact, Col Sam and Nwora visited me in Toronto while scouting for players. I must say they are doing things the right way, which is the process of preparation for the national team.
“I am very encouraged with what they are doing also with the women’s team where Mactabene Amachree is helping to put things together. The girls have a good chance of being champions again and the men’s team has shown character through the World Cup African qualifiers. They have the potential to make a difference at the World Cup.
“Sadly, I was not in Canada when they played their tune up games. I see them taking the advantage of the withdrawals of some key players from the American team to make a huge statement for the country and Africa.” He pointed out that there were several opportunities that could be tapped into if the private sector were properly galvanized to promote the game of basketball in Nigeria, noting that this is the only way the youths could be reached and given a chance to excel.
Ujiri was a member of the Nigerian team to Senegal ’97 that qualified for the World Cup in Greece. The Raptors Nigerian president is credited for much of the success of the Canada based team.
As President of Basketball Operations, Ujiri engineered the blockbuster trade, which brought San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, a three-time NBA All-Star, NBA champion and finals MVP, to Toronto last year. The move has paid off remarkably with Leonard leading the team to their first ever NBA Championship title.As part of his visit home, Ujiri also took the NBA trophy to his parents in Zaria and to the Ahmadu Bello University, where he presented it to his first coach, Oliver Babatunde Johnson, who nurtured him in his formative years.