SHEFFIELD (Júlio Chitunda’s African Message) - If Nigeria fails to select most of their twelve London Olympians to this year’s Afrobasket there won’t much harm, especially because of emerging players like Victor Oladipo.
Remember Ade Dagunduro, Tony Skinn, Ike Diogu, Richard Oruche, Koko Archibong and brothers Al-Farouq and Alade Aminu?
They had never worn Nigeria’s jersey until the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).
Nigeria’s selection option is endless, as the top-ranked leagues worldwide count with at least a selectable Nigerian player.
Nine out of twelve Nigeria London Olympians were born in the USA.
There are currently nearly one hundred American Nigerians playing college basketball in the country.
And, Indiana University’s shooting-guard Oladipo is just one of them.
The 1.96m junior is a Maryland-born, illegible to play for Nigeria, the country of both his parents.
If the 20-year-old should choose to play internationally for Nigeria, then he will become a massive addition to the team.
The Indiana Hoosiers’s star went from being a raw player two years ago, to become the team’s most influential player this season.
He's currently the most improved player in US College basketball.
It is fascinating watching Oladipo dominating both ends of the court. He is a fearless player and often extremely explosive to attack the rim thanks to his athleticism and self-discipline.
On Sunday’s 81-68 win at Ohio State, Oladipo had a career-high 26 points, 8 of 10 shooting from the field and 90 percent success from the free throw line. He also added eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
He decorated his latest performance with an acrobatic lay-up, a monumental slam dunk to stretch the lead to 39-31 before the break.
His offense is clearly showing significant improvement. A year ago he shot 20.8 percent from behind the arc to a staggering 55 per cent this season. Last year he shot 47 per cent from the field to improve to 66 percent this season.
In addition to these figure, he is averaging 2.8 assists and 5.8 boards per game.
Oladipo’s defensive game has equally progressed as he's currently leading the Big Ten Conference in steals (2.3 steals per game).
After Sunday’s performance it became clear that Oladipo is a real contender to the Player of the Year award.
The Indiana Hossiers’ head coach Tom Crean once said of Oladipo:
“He's always been a charismatic young man who didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings.
“He isn't worried about that anymore as a leader. He's grown. You can't be a leader without being demanding and hurting some people's feelings and being able to call people out, and he's getting there. He's a great voice for this team,” Crean said.
Oladipo’s role within the current number one team in the country is so fundamental that some say when Oladipo underperforms the Hoosiers tend to lose.
This is exactly what happened last Thursday at Illinois, when the Hossiers conceded their third defeat in 23 games.
With nine seconds remaining and the game tied at 72-72, Oladipo tried to attack the basket but turned the ball over, just to see him run full court like a predator to swat his opponent’s potential game winner. Eventually the Hoosiers fell short 74-72.
Meanwhile for Nigeria to reach last year’s success, they should stick with their preparations plans, which attracted Diogu and Co.
By this time last year, Nigeria had had a preliminary training camp in the Netherlands under head coach Ayodele Bakare, who made his first contact with the players he would later select to the OQT campaign. Dagunduro was one of the few players who made the final roster.
However, the National Basketball Federation is still to announce their head coach.
Whoever will be appointed to the job, will only have to adjust and build up a team that can play together.
Nigeria would make significant progress if they kept the team’s backbone and attract players like Oladipo in order to build consistence and create its own identity.
And, Oladipo could become a valuable asset for Nigeria as he has shown superb leadership skills.
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