SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) – At a first glance Angola women, Nigeria and Tunisia men are the only African flag bearers at the 2012 Olympics basketball tournament.
Let me just say they are not alone.
I dare to say this year’s Olympic seem to be a celebratory moment of African basketball in London as players come together representing all parts of the globe
There will be so many Africans playing at the basketball Olympic tournament, a record in fact, that Great Britain key player Luol Deng hails from South Sudan.
Historically the African continent has never had such a large representation at the event as it has this year.
For the first time, since the 1988 Seoul Games, three African nations will play at the same event, although African women first joined the tournament at the 1996 Atlanta Games with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Beyond the 36 players representing Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia, a lot more players eligible to represent African nations will be showing their skills in London wearing European, USA, Canadian and the Australian uniforms.
When California-born Nigerian international Ade Dagunduro told me last week that he was just one of more than 200 million people with Nigerian ancestry eligible to play for the country, I thought that his was not an isolated case.
In fact this year’s Olympics bring individuals eligible to play for Ghana, South Sudan, Benin, Senegal, DRC, Cameroon, Mali and Republic of Congo.
Curiously, only few of those countries are regulars at Afrobasket tournaments.
So, like many others USA stardom Andre Iguodala is a native of Illinois and descent of Nigeria, and he could well fit in head coach Ayo Bakare’s roster.
London-born Eric Boateng and Pops Mensah-Bonsu have roots in Ghana, and will be playing for Great Britain (GB).
Three women have Nigerian ancestry including Australian London-born Liz Cambage, Canadian Natalie Achonwa and Great Britain promising center Temi Fagbenle.
Therefore, as some African countries struggle to develop basketball facilities and programmes many players are left with no other choice, but representing their adoptive countries at world stage tournaments.
For instance, South Sudan-born Deng grew up in London, and he is a key-member of GB team.
Spain’s Serge Ibaka first represented his native Republic of Congo at the age of 17, at the 2006 FIBA Africa U18 Championship played in Durban, South Africa.
France point-guard Yannick Bokolo hails from DRC.
In other hand Frenchwomen Isabelle Yacoubou and Emilie Gomis were born in Republic of Benin and Senegal, respectively.
The list is vast, and it suggests how popular basketball is among Africans wherever they are based.
Unsurprisingly many of those players are world top-ranked with great vision to develop basketball programmes in Africa.
Chicago Bulls star Deng is a regular with the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) programme.
Frenchmen Boris Diaw and Yakhouba Diawara whose roots take them to Senegal and Mali, respectively were BWB mentors.
Africans often tend to treat their descendents as their own, and the 2011 EuroBasket silver medallist Frenchman Nicolas Batum, a son of a former Cameroonian professional basketball player, is widely admired in streets of Yaoundé.
I asked host Deng about his thoughts on this record presence of African playing at the Olympics, and he said he was “proud of them, and proud to see the basketball is moving in the right direction in Africa.”
In the end with such a large number of African players taking part at this year’s Olympics there are surely increased chances of seeing at least some reaching the podium.
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