Reigning champions Nigeria have announced the final roster of the 12 players that will be looking to defend their crown at the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket that tips off on August 10-18 in the Senegalese capital.
Eight players – including captain Elonu Adaora, who inspired D’Tigress to an eighth place finish at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018 in Spain, have returned for the Dakar showdown.
Nigeria head coach Otis Hughley Jr has maintained this core team to try and build on that incredible performance that reminded many that D’Tigress mean business.
Former captain Aisha Balabare, who made her FIBA Women’s AfroBasket debut in 2005, will be featuring in her fourth edition and remains the most experienced player in this squad at this level.
She along with Elonu, Evelyn Akhator, Ezinne Kalu, Sarah Ogoke and Atonye Nyingifa are the returnees from the 2017 squad that won the African title and will be digging deep to replicate that form that dispatched Senegal in the final and shocked the continent.
The 12-nation continental tournament will be played at the magnificent newly constructed Dakar Arena with the top six teams earning a place to contest for places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
As it stands, Nigeria are in Dakar to defend their crown – something they have done in the past – winning back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2005 and will be hoping to repeat the same feat.
Nigeria open their title campaign against Tunisia in a Group B tie on Saturday at 10:00 GMT.
Reigning champions Nigeria head to the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2019 as the best team to stop the hosts who are also record 12-time winners so the big question is, can the Otis led D’Tigress defend their crown?
They have done it before when they won the 2003 title in Mozambique and went on to defend it two years down the road in front of their home crowd in Abuja.
In 2017 when they lifted the trophy in Mali, not many saw that coming and perhaps that was the basketball gods affirming that only they can tell the future after all.
It was a surprise and that confidence heading into the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018 in Spain that saw them finish eighth will come in handy when they step onto the court in Dakar. They are a completely different team now – improved in every aspect.
Major talking point: Boasting of one of the strongest FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2019 rosters, Nigeria come into this tournament as a title favourite and if their form in the past two years is anything to go by then winning their two Group B ties should not be a problem. They have bigger fish to fry later in the tournament.
Absentees: Ndidi Madu, who played a big role two years ago to help Nigeria win their third African title, hanged her boots and returns to this event in a coaching role as the assistant to American tactician Otis Hughley Jr. The ever energetic Cecilia Okoye has also since retired from professional basketball.
Head-to-head dating back to 2007: 4-2 against Cameroon, 1-0 against Tunisia
Key players: Nigeria’s most outstanding player two years ago Evelyn Akhator is expected to once again play a very key role for D’Tigress in Dakar. Her humility off the court misguides many but instead her statistics on court say otherwise. She prefers to do the talking on the court – where it matters.
Captain Adaora Elonu’s efficiency, leadership and experience on court as well as point guard Ezinne Kalu leading the back court should add flavour to the D’Tigress squad.
Bottom line: Making it out of Group B should be a piece of cake for Nigeria but thereafter, they have got to do away with any complacency within their squad. On paper, they have what it takes to go all the way to the final and therefore a chance to defend their title.