The longest serving captain of Nigeria’s national basketball team D’Tigers, Olumide Oyedeji, in this exclusive interview with TIMOTHY DEHINBO says that country have many untapped talents in his mould, but needs improved coaching, better structures, better funding , among others, to harness the athletes’ skills.
Oyedeji who chairman of Nigeria Olympic Committee Athletes Commission also talks about D’Tigers’ coaching situation, the challenges inherent in organising camps in Nigeria and how his diligence fetched him a rewarding NBA career.
Completesports.com serves you the excerpts…
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What is your take on the decision of the NBBF to remove Alex Nwora after he led D’Tigers to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics? How do you see the appointment of Mike Brown as his replacement?
Oyedeji: Firstly, Mike Brown is a good coach, one who has been the NBA’s coach of the year previously, I think he’s going to bring his own good tactics to help develop the team. On the part of him probably doing better than what the other coaches have done for Nigeria at the Olympics, I’ll not say outrightly that he’d get it done and perform better. Why? Because Mike Brown didn’t qualify Nigeria for the Olympics just as other coaches did, but in all, he’s sure a fit man for the D’Tigers job.
On how Alex Nwora was removed by the NBBF, I’ll not like to talk about the treatment. But I felt it could have been handled differently, and the situation could have been treated better. That’s all I can say. I wouldn’t want to talk about how he was treated and all that.
What has been your greatest challenge organising basketball camps in Nigeria?
The greatest challenge has to be funding – funds and funds, basically funds. Where there’s money, it’s always good in doing these things, also accessibility to facilities. Organisation and support are tje other challenges in doing this.
To run these things perfectly, proper funding has to be put in place, and support from all ends has to be poured into it.
How did you get into the NBA? How did the NBA impact your basketball career?
Yes, I went through a long route, starting from the prestigious Loyola College in Ibadan, then to Obafemi Awolowo University, where I played well.
Then I joined the Nigerian Customs team in 1995/1996 where I was also working as a staff. After I led the team to the League, I moved from there to Ebun Comets, who were the best at that time. At Ebun Comets, I was nourished and I flourished.
Then in 1997 I was with the national team in Senegal for the FIBA African Nations Cup where we won a silver medal. After that, I participated at the World’s University Games in Italy and led the team to the semifinal.
I was in Russia in 1997/1998 with Dynamo Moscow. It was very tough as I was just starting in Europe. Between 98/2000 I was with Wurzburg in Germany. In Germany I made the decision to work harder to get into the NBA.
And I’m saying this confidently: Olumide Oyedeji is the first African player to get into the NBA without going into the college in the US. That was a good feat for me, and to God be the glory.
So basically for me, Europe, Asia and the NBA were great for my basketball career as a player. The NBA was really a good milestone for me.
Why have we not seen more home-grown players follow your footsteps, aside the ones who grew up in the United States or those studying in the colleges? What could be done to have more of them there?
I believe there are many more Olumide Oyedejis out there who can achieve such feats and do better. But I do feel that most players are not skilled enough, and also probably the league.
During my time, our League was very good. When you watch the likes of Tunji Awoyemi, Peter Aloma of blessed memory, they will always inspire you.
I feel what could be done to have many more of them out there is to firstly, have a better coaching system and better coaches out there. Coaches like Ayo Bakare of our time – one I call the most achieved Nigerian coach and he remains in the top three coaches in Africa, for me.
Aside coaching, a better structure has to be put in place also for these players, one that would harness their skills. The players should also be submissive and show enough patience to learn.
Agents and guardian also play a part in this. At times, you’d see many of these guys just sell out players anyhow just because of money, and most times those players are not making a right move. So it harms their development to the highest level.
For the first time, Nigeria will have both male and female national basketball teams at the Olympics – Tokyo 2020. What do you make of it and your expectations?
It’s really a good one, it’s the first time both will feature in the same Olympics edition. But the D’Tigers and D’Tigress have featured at the Olympics. The feeling this time could enhance a brighter performance as they are both going to be present.
I know what it is to be an Olympian, I have been there before, and I’m excited for them too.
I feel the postponement of the Olympics by a year is an Avenue for us to Prepare more, making staunch preparations, and also making the right moves to ensure that we do better at the next Olympics.
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