By Johnny Edward:
Head coach of Nigeria’s senior men’s basketball national team, Will Voigt, hopes to make history at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics by making D’Tigers the first African team to qualify from the group stages of the Games, Completesportsnigeria.com reports.
D Tigers have been drawn against hosts Brazil, Argentina, Lithuania, Spain and a team that will qualify via one of the three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.
The American coach Voigt, who led Nigeria to their first-ever African title in Tunisia last year, however raised doubts over the availability of Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo when the team’s camping begins in July but is confident Golden State Warriors centre Festus Ezeli will be available.
Voigt’s men start off their second straight Olympic appearance facing Argentina in Group B, and if they play the way they hope to, it would be the beginning of what Voigt calls “a historic moment for Nigerian basketball”.
“I don’t think there will be lots of changes from what we have seen in the previous summer,” Voigts told FIBA.com. “Right now we are not hundred percent sure whether or not he [Oladipo] will be able to do it, but he certainly is a name that everyone is well aware of.
“Probably, pretty shortly we should be able to confirm whether or not he will be involved. I have spoken with Festus, and I think he actually is on board and committed. He is ready to be a part of it.
“We have very high aspirations as a team. If you are to ask any of our players going in to Tunisia, really our goal was to make history. We went there to win that tournament, that was our mindset. Even though it had never been done before, that’s how we looked at it. That’s our mindset going into the Olympics.
“We want to be the first team, in the African history, to get out of the group stage. That’s our focus. I know that our guys will disappointed if we don’t achieve that.
“We are opening against Argentina, that’s where our mindset is right now.”
Voigts admits that reaching his dream would not be an easy task.
“They are former champions. We can’t ignore that fact. This is a team that has won it all. They are going to be a formidable opponent. Obviously they have a lot of experience, they have been playing together for a long time and they had a lot of success. They present a number of different challenges,” he explained.
“I don’t know if there is such a thing of an easy group in the Olympics.
“We are talking about the best teams in the world. But, certainly when you see the number two, number three, number four ranked teams in the world and the host nation – all in this group – it certainly presents a challenge.”
Nigeria meanwhile ranks 25th in the FIBA World Rankings. But that position does prevent Voigt from aspiring big.
“No matter what, it is going to be difficult. It’s an amazing achievement just getting to the Olympics, but to move on and get out of our group – and keep in mind that no Africa team in the history has done that – it’s a huge challenge but this has been a group that has been up for challenges and up for making history,” he added.