Kelvin Ekerete and ’Tosin Oluwalowo
D’Tigress assistant coach, Peter Ahmedu, says the US women’s basketball team are “not unbeatable” after both sides were drawn together in a tough Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games group on Tuesday.
The draw, which was conducted on Tuesday morning at the Patrick Baumann House of Basketball in Mies, Switzerland, pitted four-time women’s Afrobasket winners D’Tigress against Olympics defending champions USA, France and hosts Japan in Group B, while D’Tigers will also slug it out with Australia and two other yet to qualify teams in the men’s basketball event.
Nigeria made history when it became the first African country to present two teams in the basketball event of the Olympics, and both teams are ready to slug it out at the slam and dunk event of the Tokyo Games, which holds from July 26 to August 8 at the Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo.
“It’s a really tough group but no team is unbeatable amongst them,” Ahmedu told The PUNCH.
“All we need is quality preparations, which for the girls has started already but we want it to be better. The team needs to play as many friendly games as they can so that they can be in proper shape. Everyone says we’re in a tough group but I think we can scale through.”
Vice President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation Babs Ogunade is optimistic the Nigerian women will put up a good showing despite being grouped alongside the champions and hosts.
“This is the Olympics and the very best in the world come out to play. No team that has qualified for this Olympics is a pushover. It is also a testament to how far we have gone in basketball,” Ogunade told The PUNCH.
“We are going to take every game one at a time, which has always been our approach. We’re not scared of anybody and we won’t disregard anybody’s strength.
“We are in the Olympics and we’ll go there and give it our best shot and hope for the best. The women are already in camp in America for 10 days, which shows we’re taking their preparations seriously.”
God’sgift Achiuwa, a member of D’Tigers’ squad at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, says Nigeria’s rising profile on the big stage shows they can make it out of the group.
“For the girls, there’s every possibility of scaling through because they’ve been doing really well in recent times, likewise the men’s team. For D’Tigers, we have young players that are playing professionally in the NBA and other professional leagues so I think both teams have what it takes to make it out of the group,” he told The PUNCH.
But some fans expressed fears of an early exit for D’Tigress immediately after the draw.
“Why do they always draw the USA, be it male or female? I feel those draws are manipulated, the weaker African teams get drawn to stronger teams in the world, so all of them will be knocked out and they will say Africans are not good enough, same always happens in soccer too,” @RandieD5 wrote on Twitter.
Another Twitter user @detrabalized_1 added, “But why? This is just not fair… but then, it’s the Olympics (tougher than the basketball World Cup). You get to play the very best of the best. We can take solace in the fact that our girls nearly took out the USA in Serbia, so, no problem.”
The first and second teams in each group and the second-best third-placed teams in the group phase qualify for the knockout phase.
D’Tigress and the US are familiar foes, with the Americans always having the last laugh. They beat the African champions 79-46 and 71-40 at the 2006 and 2018 FIBA World Cups. They also overcame the Nigerians at last year’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, where they triumphed 76-71, despite a spirited performance by the Nigerians.
D’Tigress lost 84-62 to France in a classification game at the 2018 World Cup, but had no previous meeting against the Japanese.