D’Tigers created something more than a buzz when they defeated the then world’s number one, the United States, in an exhibition game on July 10 but the Nigerians will have to be in much better form if they are to upset the biggest side in the Tokyo Olympics, Australia, on Saturday (Sunday morning in Nigeria) when the two sides clash in Group B opener.
The coach Mike Brown-led side followed up the victory over Team USA with another resounding win against another highly-rated side Argentina in their second exhibition game before they were stopped by Sunday’s foes Australia.
The Aussies, now ranked number one ahead of the Olympics, defeated Nigeria by a wide margin of 108 to 69 points.
They are the form team and remain huge favourites going into this tie but Nigeria can still spring an upset here and one of the players coach Brown will rely on for such miracle is Precious Achiuwa.
While the majority of the players on Nigeria’s roster are American-born or immigrated to the United States as young children, Miami Heat forward Achiuwa is an exception.
He was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers state and didn’t leave the country until he was 14 and by that time he had exhibited enough talent to show that basketball was the way for him.
His elder brother quickened his development when he took him to the United States and he quickly established himself as the future NBA star both at high school and college.
He has been one of the fastest rising youngsters in the NBA since he was drafted by Miami Heat last season and it wasn’t a big deal Brown invited him to be part of his project with D’Tigers.
Achiuwa averaged 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in three exhibition games for Nigeria. His block of Kevin Durant’s dunk attempt during Nigeria’s upset of Team USA created a lot of buzz. And he put up his best performance against Argentina with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
So, Brown expects him to have an important role for Nigeria.
“He’s a unique talent from the standpoint that he’s a gifted, skilled player,” the coach told The Undefeated.
“He can handle the ball, he can pass the ball and he’s got great size. But because of his quickness, his strength, his athleticism and his feel, and then he can be a $200 million player by playing the 5 because he can guard 1 through 5, and especially in today’s NBA game.
While preparing for the Olympics, Brown has tried to find time to get to know each of his players. He said he has learned a lot about Achiuwa’s Nigerian pride during their conversations.
“He was just so excited about what we had accomplished in the first two games out in Vegas, not only for our team, but for everybody that he knows back in Nigeria,” Brown said. “He still has a lot of family and friends over there, and so the type of love that he’s getting is off the charts. And in his mind, that is probably a little bit more unique or different than everybody else’s [attachment] to Nigeria.”