The whole continent of Africa will be wide awake when the Nigeria Men’s Basketball team, D’Tigers take on the USA Basketball Men’s National Team in Houston. It is an encounter both countries are looking forward to, for different reasons. And if there is a game whose outcome is ‘sure’ this is it. The question is how can the team everyone expects to lose, limit the damage or possibly spring a surprise?
D’Tigers must understand they have their backs against the wall. Yep, the whole world expects the Nigerian team to lose. The question is: will be it be another historical wipe out, or will the newly-minted African Champions make the Americans sweat for their victory? The last meeting ended in a record 83 point win for the Americans, the fans in Houston are looking forward to another ‘burial’ and D’Tigers must use this as emotional fuel: it’s us against the world, and the desperation to ‘stay alive’ must show in their game!
They must understand the ‘learning curve’ is over, it’s time to execute. D’Tigers are 3-0 against China, and 1-1 against Argentina in pre-Olympic exhibition matches. Argentina are rated number 4 in the world, the Chinese are rated 14th, and Nigeria are 25. Will Voight, the Nigeria coach has said the team are learning from all these games: they were on fire from long range against Argentina in the first game, they were cold in the second game, and got buried themselves under Argentine treys. They need to mix it up against the far superior American side.
Voight must find a way to use the European experience of Olasheni ‘Shane’ Lawal. The 6’10 center is a multiple winner in Europe, and was outstanding for Barcelona last season. He might not be at the same level as DeMarcus Cousins, but he certainly can run with DeAndre Jordan. The trick is to get him involved early. Ike Diogu is a warrior, and should be encouraged to go toe-to-toe with Draymond Green. Green is a good player, but Diogu is a weapon Nigeria must use. D’Tigers must crash the glass often, and use these two offensively in the paint.
Let Ben Uzoh loose, he has nothing to lose! Uzoh is a man on a mission. He needs huge games if his plan to make a return to the NBA or just big time basketball must materialize. And the journey starts here. Uzoh was a star player with Toronto Raptors and has seen almost all the American at close range. He is a good penetrator and has a respectable shot. The only minus will be if he can stay with Kyrie Irvin or Kyle Lowry, both of whom are coming off huge seasons. Still, give the ball to Uzoh!
Will Voight has been heralded as a tactical genius, now is the time to show it. The 40 year old coach was video coordinator at San Antonio Spurs, and a bit of Gregg Popovich should have rubbed off him. You can’t “park the bus” in basketball, but if your defence work hard, you have a chance. Voight must set his team out to be defensively disciplined.
If Voight and D’Tigers get it right, they might not win the game, but they definitely will win a few more fans before arriving in Rio.
Picture Courtesy of Pawel Weszka, NBA Africa