Nigeria caused a stir at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan when they reached the Eighth-Finals before falling to Germany and Dirk Nowitzki in the last seconds.
The Nigerians are desperate to make it back to the best international event in the sport when it is staged in Turkey next year.
To meet that aim, Nigeria must win a medal at the FIBA Africa Championship when in Libya – something they did not do when Angola hosted the tournament in 2007.
The new coach of Nigeria’s men’s team is John Lucas, a former USA international who captured a bronze medal at the 1974 FIBA World Championship and then played and coached in the NBA.
Lucas is renowned for giving private lessons to players, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, to help them master the fundamentals in the game.
The new president of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Tijjani Umar, is optimistic about his team’s chances.
He spoke to FIBA.com’s Olusegun Ikuesan.
FIBA: Congratulations on becoming president. What should Nigerians expect from this (NBBF) board in the next four years?
Tijjani Umar: Thanks. For me, the inauguration is only a formality. You know that we have being running the affairs of the game since long before the election. I am sure you know that I have been heading the task force which has had the primary assignment to prepare the senior national team for the 25th edition of the FIBA Africa Championship in Libya in August this year and other local basketball programs. What is really important to us now is not just the Cup of Nations but other programs as well. We are going to jump-start the Zenith Women Premier League by the end of this month, get involved in the U16 Boy’s and Girl’s qualifiers holding in Cotonuo, Republic of Benin and do everything possible to see that the Premier League for Men take off, so you can see that our hands are full.
FIBA: Tell us about the funding for the programs.
Tijjani Umar: It’s true that funding is extremely vital in the execution of these programs. We shall appeal to all stake-holders in the game for support, including corporate sponsors of our various programs and with the support of everybody; none of the programs will be left unattended.
FIBA: Can you talk about the decision to have American John Lucas coach men’s national team?
Tijjani Umar: It is true that Nigerian coaches, (Ayo Bakare and Sani Ahmed) qualified the country for Libya 2009, the Afrobasket. The situation on ground presently forces us to go for a foreign coach so that is why we made the appointment of John Harding Lucas-II, who we believe can deliver at this crucial moment. For me personally, I would prefer a Nigerian coach who has a greater stake than a foreigner.
FIBA: Nigeria will be training for Libya in the United States and not in Africa. Why is this?
Tijjani Umar: The bulk of the invited players live in the United States, which makes it easy for them to come together on short notice. Also, given the financial status of the board at present, we realize the difficulty in getting the players to come down to Nigeria for a camp but arrangements are in place to have the team come down to Nigeria before flying out to Tripoli, Libya for the Championship. I can assure you that this will probably be the last time we will have any of our team camps in the US, unless they want to embark on a training tour. But such camps must start from the home front.
FIBA: Nigeria did not win a medal at the last FIBA Africa Championship in Angola. What is the objective this time?
Tijjani Umar: To be honest with Nigerians, our target is to secure one of the three 2010 FIBA World Championship tickets.
FIBA: What about the appointment of a coach for D’Tigress?
Tijjani Umar: You know there are still the zonal qualifiers to play in, which we are hosting, so in the next couple of days or weeks, the coach for the senior women national team will be announced and he will definitely be a Nigerian.