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2020 NBA Draft class features record-high number of players of Nigerian origin

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More than the usual smattering of Nigerian eyes will be fixed on the NBA Draft on Wednesday, as a record-high chunk of the class is made up of Nigeria-origin players.
A total of seven players, two born in Nigeria, will be in consideration for pickup by some of the best basketball teams in the world.
Onyeka Okongwu is in the conversation for not just for the top 5 pick, but could well rival James Wiseman, Lamelo Ball, and Anthony Edwards for the number one overall pick.
Precious Achiuwa and Udoka Azubuike are the two who were born in Nigeria. If both are selected in the top 30, it would be the first time that two players from Nigeria are selected in the first round of the same NBA Draft.
Along with Achiuwa and Azubuike, there are also Onyeka Okongwu, Isaac Okoro, Zeke Nnaji, Daniel Oturu, and Jordan Nwora on the cards.
“I think it’s big,” Achiuwa said in a pre-Draft Zoom call with ESPN.
“It just shows there’s a big talent culture in Nigeria when it comes to basketball, athleticism and athletes as a whole in general.
“It speaks to how competitive we are and our willingness to be better in whatever we do.”
It is a testament both to how far the Nigerian community in the USA has come, and how much basketball has grown back home.
In 1984, when Akeem Olajuwon was drafted number one overall to the NBA — ahead of even Michael Jordan — he was the lone Nigerian, nay African, in that Draft Class.
It took another 10 years before the NBA drafted another player of Nigerian descent when the New Jersey Nets picked up Yinka Dare from George Washington, and another four years before Michael Olowokandi was drafted number one overall by the LA Clippers.
Thirty six years on from that first, pivotal draft, the 2020 NBA Draft Class — like the 2020 NFL Draft Class before it — boasts the highest number of players of Nigerian origin.
Nwora already represents Nigeria senior men’s basketball team. Oturu’s father, Francis, played table tennis for Nigeria.
Okongwu is in the conversation for not just for the top 5 pick, but could well rival James Wiseman, Lamelo Ball, and Anthony Edwards for the number one overall pick, and he is not shy about it.
“I feel like I’m higher than all of them,” he told ESPN. “I just do all the little things well. I just play basketball. I know how to win.”
Also projected to be a high pick is Isaac Okoro, the 6’6 shooting guard/small forward from Auburn.
All told, there are more than 30 current and former NBA players with Nigerian roots, including the likes of Andre Iguodala, Victor Oladipo, Bam Adebayo, and the Antetokounmpo brothers, led of course by legendary Hall of Famer Olajuwon.
Achiuwa said that it is a trend the current class will seek to carry on: “I think we have the opportunity to keep that legacy going, especially that Nigerian representation in the NBA.”
That representation has been helped in no small part by the work of a man who himself was in a similar position some 20 years ago.
Former Nigeria captain Olumide Oyedeji was drafted out of German team DJK Wurzburg [Dirk Nowitzki played there too] and has run basketball camps every year in Nigeria for 20 straight years until this year’s COVID-19 interruption.
Over 35 000 kids have passed through the camp in those 20 years, including Azubuike.
Oyedeji, who played three seasons in the NBA, projects that the number will rise in the future and also expects the players to continue to light the way for others.
“We are a country of about 200 million people and with the way Nigerians are migrating to the USA, don’t be surprised to see 20 in the next Draft Classes in the future,” Oyedeji told ESPN.
“We already have three projected to go in the lottery this year.
“It is a positive thing and I feel proud. For other people back home, it is just the same way. We just have to translate it to sports development back home.
“And they should know and remember where they come from because it goes beyond basketball.”
Pivotal to the increase in Nigerian names in the NBA is Fubara Onyanabo, a man whom many in Nigeria have barely heard of, but has mentored a long list of players, including some currently representing in Nigeria’s national team.
Achiuwa was not shy about paying tribute to Fubura, who coached the player’s elder brother: “He is doing a great job, advancing the game and making sure that the kids back home have a way to learn the game.
“He is providing resources for the kids and I think that that is absolutely big having someone that is so passionate about basketball back home. I think that is really important.”
Onyanabo, who has coached Nigeria’s national teams at various age levels, has been doing so since 2009. With no resources, he poured his heart and soul and money into running the basketball camps.
While he is gratified to see that his passion is bearing fruit thousands of miles away on a global stage, even if indirectly, his priorities are set differently.
“For me, it is a passion and a calling,” Onyanabo told ESPN. “After my playing career ended, I found that although kids around me loved basketball and loved watching the NBA, they did not have the right skills to play, so I decided to start training them.
“For me, it is not about talents that are exported outside Nigeria. It is the ability to keep these young people busy and channel their energy towards positive and productive ventures here in Nigeria.
“My fulfilment is the ability to put smiles on the faces of these kids. They don’t pay to learn or play basketball. We just want to keep them happy and away from trouble.”
Along with the Nigerians in the Draft Class, there is also some other history to be made at an African level.
The Draft also includes Mamadi Diakite, who was born in Guinea, Paul Eboua, born in Cameroon, Karim Mane and Lamine Diane, both born in Senegal. If they are all drafted it would break the record for the most players to be drafted from the continent. Four were drafted in 2016.
Whatever happens, Oyedeji has some words of advice: “The work starts when they are drafted. They have to be ready at all times, even if they are on the bench. Always be ready to be the next man up.”

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Tokyo Olympics: Australia beat Nigeria 84-67 in Basketball opener

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Australia’s Boomers beat Nigeria’s Tigers 84-67 in a commanding performance on Sunday night in Tokyo with star player Patty Mills scoring 25 points as both nations opened their quest for a first Olympic medal in men’s basketball.

Australia matched its best finish by finishing fourth at the Rio Games in 2016 but is capable of going further this time with a veteran roster full of NBA players.

The Australians, ranked third in the world, pulled away in the fourth quarter of a game that had been evenly matched between teams with the most NBA players outside of the U.S.

Nigeria’s D’Tigers featured eight current NBA players and the Australians seven.

Both teams won exhibition games in Las Vegas against the Americans, who have 12 NBA players on their roster.

Australia opened an 11-point lead midway through the third quarter after holding the Nigerians without a basket for more than five minutes to open the second half.

But the Australians lost momentum soon after when the game was delayed because the horn was malfunctioning, and Nigeria cut the deficit to five early in the fourth.

But Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers made a 3-pointer and then Mills, the San Antonio Spurs guard who was a flag bearer for the Australians in the opening ceremony, helped break it open.

Obi Emegano scored 12 points for Nigeria, led by Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown.

Australia plays Italy on Tuesday in matchup of teams that won in Group B on the opening day. Nigeria faces Germany.

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PHOTOS: Nigeria dazzles in Tokyo Olympic opening parade

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Arsenal agree £50m deal for Brighton’s defender

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Arsenal has agreed on a deal in principle for the £50m transfer of Brighton & Hove Albion defender Ben White.

White was a late call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England Euro 2020 squad.

It completes a meteoric rise for the 23-year-old, who was released by Southampton as a youngster before being signed by Brighton.

He went on a number of loans from the Seagulls, including to Leeds’ Championship title-winning side in 2019-20.

White’s performances for Leeds attracted the attention of many leading clubs and prompted Brighton to secure him on a new four-year contract last summer.

That deal put the Seagulls in a strong negotiating position this summer and it is understood they rejected two bids from the Gunners before agreement was finally reached amid interest from other Premier League clubs.

White is on holiday so the transfer, including his medical, will not be completed until he returns.

The transfer comes as Arsenal part ways with Brazil defender David Luiz after his contract expired.

The Gunners have also signed 21-year-old left-back Nuno Tavares from Benfica for £8m this summer.

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