It was a historic and memorable night for Nigeria in the 2020 NBA Draft as a record eight players of Nigerian heritage––with two born in the country––were drafted into the league with two top ten picks and six picks in the first round.
The National Basketball Association (NBA), American men’s professional basketball league, held its yearly draft, where clubs draft highly skilled basketballers who are eligible and wish to join the league on Wednesday, November 18.
In both rounds, a total of 8 players of Nigerian heritage were selected by different teams in the league. Port Harcourt-born Precious Achiuwa, who is also the son of the former coach of the Nigerian basketball team, coach Fubara Onyeanabo, was drafted from Memphis Tigers by the Miami Heat. Center Player, Udoka Azubuike, drafted from Kansas Jayhawks by Utah Jazz, was born in Lagos.
Speaking on Achiuwa being drafted, Pat Riley, who heads basketball operations at the Heat, said: “We are very excited to have him. We think he fits in perfectly… I’m excited that at 20, we were able to find a player who is that good and who has that kind of quality.”
22-year-old Jordan Nwora, whose father, Alex Nwora, coaches the Nigerian basketball team, was drafted by Milwaukee Bucks. Jordan is a skilled scorer and holds the single-game scoring record for the Nigerian national team — D’Tigers — with 36 points scored against Mali during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers.
Other drafted players with ties to Nigeria include 19-year-old Small Forward Isaac Okoro (who was the first Nigerian drafted this year and the 5th draft) selected by Cleveland Cavaliers, Power Forward Onyeka Okongwu drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, and 21-year-old center Daniel Oturu drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves — who were all born in the United States to Nigerian parents.
When asked by a reporter what it means to be the first Nigerian drafted in the 2020 NBA drafts, Isaac Okoro replied: “It feels great to be the first Nigerian in this draft to be drafted. It’s also just a blessing. My mom always tells me to keep that Nigerian pride. Even though I wasn’t born in Nigeria, I still got Nigerian blood. So, it’s just having that on my shoulders.”
Power Forward Ezekiel “Zeke” Nnaji was drafted by Denver Nuggets, Shooting Guard Desmond Bane was drafted by the Boston Celtics, who then traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies.
On this new record set by NBA players of Nigerian heritage, President of the Basketball Africa League, Amadou Gallo Fall, said: “In this incredible, challenging time with the pandemic and recent event that happened in Nigeria, this is a great story. Young people really being at center stage, providing inspiration to this next generation… just to show that it’s possible.”
There are currently 19 players in the NBA who are Nigerian or are of Nigerian descent, including reigning MVP and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. This number is only going to increase as Nigerian participation in sports international keeps increasing. Indeed, Naija no dey carry last.
Cover photo: Twitter | David Orif
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