Sports

Are Nigeria’s D’Tigers d’sleepers in this year’s Olympics?

Chimezie Metu of Nigeria dunks in an exhibition against Argentina.

Chimezie Metu of Nigeria dunks in an exhibition against Argentina.
Image: Getty Images

Nigeria, currently No. 22 in the world, is the third-lowest ranked men’s basketball club to have qualified for the Olympics, which will begin on July 23.

And, in back-to-back exhibition games, all they’ve done is stunned the No. 1- and No. 4-ranked teams in the world. NBD.

Nigeria’s D’Tigers came into Saturday’s game with Team USA as a near 30-point underdog and won 90-87 in dramatic and shocking fashion. This is the same program that Team USA defeated 156-73, setting an Olympic scoring record, nine years ago. Team USA also routed Nigeria 110-66 in a scrimmage five years ago. But this past weekend, led by a trio of young Miami Heat pieces Gabe Nnamdi Vincent, Kezie Okpala, and Precious Achiuwa — along with Detroit Pistons center Jahlil Okafor and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie — Nigeria defeated Team USA for the first time ever. Then, on Monday, they blew out Argentina — another world power in men’s basketball, who finished second in the FIBA World Cup of 2019 — by 23 points, 94-71.

It hasn’t been ideal for Team USA, sure, because they lost to Australia last night, losing their third and fourth scrimmages since 1992. But not enough has been made of Nigeria’s thumping of Argentina (who plays Team USA tonight). Okafor led Nigeria with 15 points in the effort. Okogie and Sacramento Kings F/C Chimezie Metu added 10 points each. Nigeria outshot Argentina 48 percent to 36 percent over the course of the game, and led by double-digits for nearly the entire second half.

Stephen A. Smith’s had a bad week already, but his dismissive comments toward Nigeria did provoke responses from the club, the team’s official Twitter, and the aforementioned Okogie, in particular:

Sure, these are only scrimmages, but Nigeria’s obviously demonstrated an ability to match up well with some of the other top clubs so far. Are we expecting them to outlast teams of this same caliber when the Olympics officially begin? Well, luckily, that’ll be quickly addressed. Nigeria’s first game in Olympic play will be against world No. 3 Australia on July 25 as part of Group B, which also includes Germany and Italy, who surprised Serbia in Belgrade-based Olympic qualifiers earlier this month.

Nigeria has qualified for their third straight Olympics, and their best showing came in 2012 where they finished 10th — but none of their clubs in history have done anything of this magnitude leading up to them. And that’s the reason it’s time to officially include them on a “ones to watch” list for your Olympic viewing pleasure.

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