State Golden Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown led Nigeria’s national basketball team last November through the first qualifying round for the 2021 African Basketball Tournament, starting with a 3 and a 0.
Without having time to shout and with a handful of practice matches for the tournament, Brown’s 20-person team could be forgiven for shouting or maybe even throwing the match.
Instead, they defeat South Sudan (led by former Brown player Luol Deng), Rwanda and Mali with 20, 21 and 23 respectively, allowing Brown to drool in the near future.
After almost leading the vice-champion team to an unbeaten record in the first bite of cherry, Brown feels optimistic enough not only to see a medal for the D’Tigers at the Olympics, but also to make the jump to the top five of the FIBA teams.
Our goal is to be on the podium, Brown told ESPN after the third of these victories. We want to show the world that we can compete with the best.
And I think with the talent we have, that’s the real goal for us.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Mike Brown has expanded his ambitions for the Nigerian National Basketball Team from an Olympic medal to the top five FIBA players. Sam Forrenchich/NVAE on Getty Images
This constant change now seems to be the subject of his still short term of office as head coach of Nigeria.
When Brown agreed to coach the Nigerian national team in February of this year, it was his job to get them to go to the Olympics, and then it was set for mid-2020 until the coronary pandemic.
A few months later, he planned to expand the programme in the medium term. Today, after working closely with the team, Mr Brown’s vision has evolved and he is now much further away than he can see.
He said: We want to be a strong side, we want to talk to the best in the world, and to do that we need to make sure that players are looked after and that standards are set at the right level.
If you look at the players of the Nigerian basketball team, it’s an incredible amount of talent. So I had the feeling that with a small organization, a small structure and a little continuity we could make this thing very special.
In the long term, therefore, we aim for a high degree of continuity, to not only achieve first place in Africa, but also this 23rd place in the world and to give us the five best marks year after year.
The number of players coming to Nigeria on the assembly line largely supports these ambitions. A record number of [nine] Nigerian-born players was set in the NBA draft for 2020.
Brown did his homework and took turns talking to each of these players: As head coach I have the right to talk to young Nigerians about the match in Nigeria.
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Olympic basketball coach Mike Brown wants to show that Nigeria can compete with the best in 2021.
I can’t persuade them to play for the Golden State Warriors. So I’ve talked to every one of these candidates since they’ve been in college. And when they were recruited, I congratulated them and some of their coaches.
It shows how big the talent pool is. It’s just a rough sketch. And there are other guys at the university that I say are coming. I’m very excited.
I got a call from a number of coaches asking if they could help me with the program, and I am talking about high-level coaches, NBA coaches, 1st division coaches, etc. I’m not sure they can help me with the program.
People want to be part of it because they can see the potential, they feel it, but more importantly, they understand the love for perfection that Nigerians show in all areas, not just basketball.
This effort, this passion, this desire to be great is the common thread of the Nigerian people.
And now that you have such talented people, if I could bring them together, we could take this team to another level, and it could be really special for a long time.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Jordan Navora is in the recent NBA design by the Milwaukee Bucks and is already a well-known Nigerian player. Rich Grace / Icon Sports Wire / Getty Images
As ambitious as it may seem, Brown has a clear vision on how to achieve these goals and he started building the foundation at the age of 16 and continues to do so on the senior team.
Mr. Brown said: This continuity is extremely important. We want to build the program correctly, we want to have the command u16, we want to have the command u17 and the command u18, so these children can start connecting.
And when they arrive in the senior national team, it’s like in all these countries, they already know that we go on the offense, they already know that we are on the defensive, we know them as coaches, they know us.
The communication with the young people is good, but one of the reasons why many thought Brown was hired is that he used his profile to attract famous stars such as Victor Oladipo or even Bam Adebayo and convince them to consider playing football for Nigeria.
Brown tried, he says: We contacted representatives of Adebayo and Victor. Bam, he was clearly born in the United States and raised by his mother, who is an American citizen, and he didn’t really know his father. And so the link to Nigeria is not exactly there for him.
And you know, he’s gonna play for Team USA, I don’t see him on that team. So he probably won’t play for Nigeria.
And then with Vic, it is, you know, similar from the point of view that, because I think that he may have played in college or soon, he has played for the U.S., and from what I understand, at least from what his representatives say, he wants to try his luck for the U.S. team. He wants to play for the American team.
If they really want to join the Nigerian national team, I think they have a lot of experience and that they can be part of something new and special in the coming years.
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Continuity is not only about the players, but also about the coaching staff. Alex Navora, the man who replaces Brown, but who remains in the state, was very helpful to inform him.
Mr. Brown said: Alex has been here the past few years. So he knows most players very well, not just their game on the floor, but the way they are as people who let them play, who guide them.
For me it’s important to get that kind of information from Alex about each person, what they can do in the field to help us, but also how I can put pressure on them. It was priceless.
Alex is the ideal man for this, because he did a damn good job as head coach. I’m not necessarily looking at him, I’m not necessarily quoting him, I’m replacing him with a better one, but I’m just continuing to build on the foundations he’s already laid.
In addition to Nwora, Brown also took over the Nigerian coaching staff, hiring NBA experts to help him with the details.
Brown says he won’t be able to participate in the second qualifying round of the African Basketball Championship in February, but he says he has more than enough qualified staff to take on the challenge.
He said: The Warriors State has player development coaches who will assist me at the Olympics, as well as Darwin Ham, assistant head coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, and Geordi Fernandez, who is second for the Denver Nuggets, and James Laughlin, director of video editing for the Golden State.
So we have a good staff, including an analyst trainer from the Detroit Pistons, so there will be many NBA coaches from different employees to help us.
It’s a very difficult bridge, which, with the talent on the ground, should be good to race on that podium in Tokyo next year.
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