The dust has settled. It’s been two months since that momentous occasion for Nigerian sport, when D’Tigers at long last stepped onto the top of the podium of an international basketball event.
Nigeria, the country that gave the world Hakeem Olajuwon, a nation of talented sportsmen, had never captured a title at an AfroBasket before the 30th of August in Rades, just outside of Tunis.
On that night, the squad led by coach Will Voigt put an exclamation mark on a very impressive tournament, one that saw them fall just once, to hosts Tunisia, before shifting into a higher gear and beating Mozambique (83-47), Gabon (88-64), Senegal (88-79) and Angola (74-65).
Voigt knows that he has been a part of something that is very special.
“The biggest thing for me is just being the first team in Nigerian history [to capture the title],” he said to
“We received a phone call from the Vice President (Yemi Osibajo) of the country before the game and it was only him because the President (Muhammadu Buhari) was sick and had no voice.
“You immediately realize the significance. On our staff, we have two former national team players, one who played in [19]97 in the finals and lost.”
Senegal won that title game, 69-48.
“We were reminded of how significant an achievement this could be for the nation,” Voigt said.
“I think when you do something like that, it’s pretty big.”
Reflecting on the summer and the tournament itself, Voigt remembers the team having to clear some big hurdles in order to book a place at the Olympics for the second consecutive time.
They did so four years ago at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Caracas, Venezuela, when Ike Diogu, the national team captain, played a starring role.
Diogu got hurt in the preparations, right before the start of AfroBasket 2015, and wasn’t able to play, leaving the Nigerians with 11 players.
“We lost our captain, our leading scorer and our leading rebounder right before we got to Tunisia so for our guys to then step up, fill the shoes that Ike’s injury left for us, I think it was a pretty special achievement,” Voigt said.
“The team had a lot of adversity, a lot of things that people didn’t see.
“We had travel issues and all kinds of stuff. I think for us to go to Tunisia, re-group, re-focus, come back after a pretty tough loss to Tunisia and get better after that in every game, I rank this pretty high as far as things I’ve been a part of.”
Making the title even sweeter was the fact that in the Final, Nigeria beat Angola for the first time in nearly two decades.
“We would have been ready against anyone,” Voigt said.
“(But) We looked at Angola as champions.
“Not only did they win in 2013, but for so long they have been the face of African basketball.
“We felt at some point we would have to go through them.
“Maybe some people began to count them out at the start of the tournament but we had our eyes on them so that the fact that we got to play them in the championship was something that we were looking forward to.
“They have been the face of African basketball for a long time so for us, it’s an extra special achievement to knock them off to win it all.”
There are still challenges facing Nigeria.
In terms of results, can the country put together a string of title runs as Angola were able to do from 1989 to 2011, when they won 11 African championships?
“We had talked a lot about the history of Nigerian basketball and starting that foundation in Tunisia,” Voigt said.
“To go to the Olympics through the OQT was special but we had never won an African Championship.
“I hope this is something that will be the catalyst for success moving forward.”
Voigt understands also the responsibility that Nigeria now has as the continent’s representatives in Rio.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said.
“We will definitely work our hardest to represent the continent.
“We’re hopeful there will be other teams from Africa at the Olympics as well.”
Angola, Tunisia and Senegal will have the opportunity to clinch a place in Rio at one of next year’s OQTs.
“There is a long time to go to Brazil but I’m sure we’ll be prepared,” Voigt said.
And you can also rest assured that the reins of Nigeria will still be held by Voigt.
“You’ll see me in Brazil,” he said.

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