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D'Tigers take on US

02 August 2012, 09:59Andrew Ifeanyi Ibeh

Nigeria's D'Tigers will on Thursday night take on the United States of America in their third game of the Olympic Games men's basketball tournament, hoping to bounce back from Tuesday's disappointing loss to Lithuania.

The Nigerians suffered a 53-72 loss to the Lithuanians to place their chances of progressing to the knockout rounds in jeopardy; a quest that had earlier been smoothened by their opening day 60-56 win over African champions Tunisia on Sunday.

A win from any of their upcoming games against the United States (on Thursday), Argentina (on Saturday) and France (on Monday) will all but guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals for D’Tigers.

But the Ayo Bakare-tutored side couldn't have asked for a more difficult path to the last-eight.

The French are the 12th ranked team in the world, while the Argentines are ranked number three and had back in 2004 claimed Olympic gold in Athens.

But in Team USA, the Nigerians, ranked 21st in the world, will be up against undoubtedly the best basketball team on the planet consisting of players from the best professional league in the world, the NBA.

And in Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the Nigerian players will come face to face with two of the greatest players to have ever played the game.

Both Kobe and LeBron currently enjoy an iconic status that was last enjoyed by the legendary Michael Jordan so many years ago, and this is reflected in the haste with which opposition players rush at them at the end of every game involving the American team in search of autographs and memorabilia.

That is just how much in awe they are held by fellow professional basketball players.

A similar scenario will most likely be replayed at the end of Thursday's encounter between Nigeria's D’Tigers and the Americans, even though most members of the Nigerian team are Americans by birth and have at some point in their career – either in college or in the NBA – squared up against or played alongside members of Team USA.

A case in point is that of Nigerian forward Ike Diogu, who was born in the United States city of Texas and played for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets alongside Team USA guard Chris Paul and centre Tyson Chandler back in 2009.

Paul, also known as "the Smiling Assassin" by NBA fans, was until recently the teammate of D'Tigers forward Al-Farouq Aminu. That was before Aminu, who was also born in the United States, got traded to the New Orlean Hornets.

In fact, nine of the 12 members of the Nigerian team were born in the United States. They are the Aminu brothers, Al-Farouq and Alade; Ekene Ibekwe, Ike Diogu, Ade Dagunduro, Chamberlain Oguchi, Koko Archibong, Richard Oruche and Derrick Obasohan.

Only Tony Skinn, who was born in Lagos but carries an American passport, Ejike Ugboaja and team captain Olumide Oyedeji were born in Nigeria.

So for most parts of Thursday's encounter in London it will be a case of five Americans, in the colours of the United States, matching up against five other Americans donning the colours of Africa's most populous nation.

Not that it will make much of a difference regarding the final outcome of the encounter as every indicator points to an American victory, that is, a victory for the REAL Americans.

In other words, just in case I haven't made it any clearer, Kobe and the rest of the gang, including Andre Iguodala, who was born of Nigerian parents, will emerge victorious.

But that doesn't mean the Nigerians will make it easy for them as they also have points to prove especially the six feet, eight inches tall Diogu, who would love nothing more than to prove to NBA managers who considered him too short to be an NBA forward, that they made a huge mistake by not offering him a deal after he was released by the San Antonio Spurs at the start of the year.

Diogu, who has since played in China and Puerto Rico since ending his seven year romance with the NBA (he previously played for the Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Hornets and the Los Angeles Clippers), will love nothing more than to make a return to the best league in the world and who says an impressive showing against the Americans will not go a long way in smoothening that path?

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