BY JOE APU
Fears that the D’ Tigers of Nigeria will have a repeat performance of London 2012 in the basketball event of Rio 2016 have been dismissed by the team’s head coach, Will Voigt who insisted that host Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Lithuania cannot stop his team from making it to the second round.
For Voigt, the momentum with which the players gained qualification for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics is still intact even as the opposition is stiffer going by the caliber of teams in Group B.
Nigeria will open her second straight Olympic appearance facing Argentina in Group B, and if they play the way they hope to, it would be the beginning of what Voigt called “a historic moment for Nigerian basketball.”
“We have very high aspirations as a team,” Voigt told FIBA.com. “If you are to ask any of our players going in to Tunisia, really our goal was to make history. We went there to win that tournament, that was our mindset. Though it had never been done before, that’s how we looked at it. That’s our mindset going into the Olympics.
“We want to be the first team, in the African history, to get out of the group stage. That’s our focus. I know that our guys will be disappointed if we don’t achieve that.”
The Western Africans had been matched up against hosts Brazil, Argentina, Lithuania, Spain and a team that will qualify via one of the three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs).
Four years ago at the London Olympics, Argentina proved too strong for Nigeria in the Group Phase, winning 93-79 and advanced to the last four while the Africans returned home with a 1-4 record.
Dating back to 2012 Nigeria was 0-1 against the South Americans, but they were tied against Lithuania with one win apiece.
“We are opening against Argentina, that’s where our mindset is right now,” Voigt noted.
“They are former champions. We can’t ignore that fact. This is a team that has won it all. They are going to be a formidable opponent.”
Obviously they have a lot of experience, they have been playing together for a long time and they had a lot of success. They present a number of different challenges,” he explained.
Now that they know what to expect from the 12-team event, Voigt insists they will put together what they feel are the best 12 players to represent the country and move forward with those guys.
“I don’t know if there is such a thing of an easy group in the Olympics,” he said.
“We are talking about the best teams in the world. But, certainly when you see the number two, number three, number four ranked teams in the world and the host nation – all in this group – it certainly presents a challenge.”