Whether official play or exhibition matches, Team USA doesn't lose too many matches.
That's what makes the Nigerian national squad's 90-87 upset all the more surprising for basketball fans.
It was less than ten years ago that team USA won by a record margin of 83 points against Nigeria at the Olympics. While both teams have completely different rosters, this 86-point swing demonstrates the exceptional transformation that coach Mike Brown and the Nigerian basketball team (D'Tigers) have done to their basketball program.
How it started vs How it’s going
At the London 2012 Olympics, Team USA set a new Olympic scoring record when they won 156-73 vs Nigeria.
Fast forward, D’Tigers stun Team USA in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This is massive for Mike Brown and his side. Incredible. 👏🏾 pic.twitter.com/iZCCTmCmof
— Usher Komugisha (@UsherKomugisha) July 11, 2021
In a game that included Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Bam Adebayo, Nigeria used lethal three-point shooting and excellent defense to defeat an underwhelming USA team.
Prior to their impressive win, Nigeria was the 22nd ranked country in the FIBA rankings. This compares to Team USA (1st) and Australia (3rd).
For Australian fans, however, this recent result isn't something to get too excited about. Nigeria finds itself in the same group as Australia in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
In who was supposed to be Australia's lowest-ranked competitor in their group stage, Nigeria has put other teams on notice declaring themselves contenders for making it out of the first round of the Olympics. Italy (10th) and Germany (17th) are the other two teams in the group.
Many of the Nigerian players are more known for their defense. This will keep them in a lot of the games they play. They will grind down their opponents and keep scores relatively low. This works well into their matchup with Australia who will also play a similar style of basketball. While both countries have been accumulating talent over the past decade their defense and hustle will distinguish them from some of the other more star-studded lineups.
In a matchup between the two, Australia would have the edge with a similar style of three-and-D play, but the Boomers have more experienced and proven talent on their roster. That still doesn't mean that Nigeria cannot pose a threat to the Aussies however, as if you are capable of beating team USA, you are capable of defeating any side.
With all the buzz and excitement coming out of the Nigerian national team, an look into some of the key players on the roster was needed to try and find out more about the potential dark horse contender.
Who to watch
Nwarmu is a 6 ft 5 guard who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He played four years of college basketball in America but went undrafted in the NBA. Struggling to find opportunities, he became a journeyman playing in 5 different professional teams between 2016-2020.
After traveling across the world for opportunities, Nwarmu's most recent team has been his most successful.
In 2021 he signed with Samara in the Russian Basketball Super League 1.
In an extremely successful campaign, his side was crowned champions after a 3-2 victory in the finals.
Personally, 2021 was also a big year for Nwarmu. He was awarded a position on the All-Russian Super Leagues 1st team, was the league's top scorer (19.6 points), and won the league's most spectacular player and import player of the year.
He has shown ability as a pure scorer, who could become a solid spark plug off the bench for an NBA side. If he continues with this form throughout the Olympics, teams might be looking at him as a possible Summer League signing.
Samara 2021 averages: 19.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 52.6% from the field, and 45.5% from three
vs Team USA box score: 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 50% from the field, and three
Okpala is a 6 ft 8 guard/forward who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He played two years of college basketball for Stamford before being drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 32nd pick in 2019. He was traded on draft night to Miami in a three-team trade.
Miami sent their 2022, 2025, and 2026 second-round picks to the Indiana Pacers, the Suns sent T.J. Warren to the Pacers and Phenoix received cash considerations from Indiana.
Okpala spent most of his first season playing for Miami's G-League affiliate Sioux Falls Skyforce after injuring his Achilles at the beginning of the season.
After a solid campaign in the 2019-2020 season, he earned a call up to the Miami Heat squad, playing 39 games in the 2020-2021 season including minutes in two playoff games.
While not featuring heavily in the Heat's rotation, Okpala has shown flashes and will continue to develop within the Heats system. He is a rangy forward with defensive upside that could be developed into a solid role player for the heat.
He can be utilised either in smaller or bigger lineups with the ability to defend positions 2-4. His versatility would be an asset to Miami and Nigeria but will need to continue to develop on the offensive side to become a more complete and damaging player.
Miami Heat averages: 2.4 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.5 ass
Sioux Falls Skyforce averages: 11.7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.35 steals
vs Team USA box score: 2 rebounds, 20:12 minutes played (most on team Nigeria)
Achiuwa is a 6 ft 8 forward who is a Nigerian-born player.
Growing up he was a talented soccer player but began focusing on basketball in the eighth grade. He then moved to America where his size and athleticism were enticing for high school basketball programs. He played one year of college basketball for Memphis before being drafted by the Miami Heat with the 20th pick in 2020.
In the 2020-2021 season, he managed to break into the team playing 64 games for the Heat including three playoff matches. Considering rookies get fewer opportunities in Pat Riley-led teams, it highlights the potential that Precious possesses.
His offense is still raw, which has limited his court time in his first season. His defense however is what differentiates him from others, as he has the potential to become an excellent defender in the league. His size and athleticism allow him to play as a small-ball 5 or guard smaller forwards.
While he is able to make an impact game with his defensive intensity, his offensive output is currently limiting him. With more pick-and-roll opportunities and improvement on post touches, it could be enough to unlock Precious as an important player for Miami and Nigeria.
Miami Heat 2021 averages: 5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 54.4% from the field.
vs Team USA box score: 3 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block
Vincent is a 6 ft 3 point guard who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He played fours years of college basketball for UC Santa Barbara before going undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft. The Stockton Kings offered him a G-League contract where he played for two seasons. He started off slow, but in his second season started showing flashes of his offensive potential including multiple 30+ point performances at the end of 2019.
Due to this, the Miami Heat began to show interest in him and was given a two-way contract in the middle of the 2019-2020 season.
Vincent had limited NBA opportunity in his first season, playing predominantly for the G-League affiliate Sioux Falls Skyforce. He came out of blocks, making an immediate impact on his team. After a stellar campaign, he was awarded the G-League's most improved player.
Due to his success in the G-League, Vincent managed to play in 53 of the Heat's games in the 2020-2021 season including three playoff games. He played limited game time, but still managed to show that he could be an impactful scorer off the bench in the NBA.
His shooting was on display against Team USA, hitting six of his eight three-pointers. This offensive explosion is exactly what Nigeria needs to continue to compete against the higher-rated teams in the Olympics.
Miami Heat averages – 4.5 points, 1 rebound, 1.2 assists
Sioux Falls Skyforce 2020 – 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists
vs Team USA box score: 21 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 66.7% from the field, 75% from three
Okogie is a 6 ft 4 guard who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He played to years of college basketball for Georgia Tech. After his sophomore year, he was declared for the draft but didn't sign with an agent. This gave him the possibility to return to Georgia Tech the following year if he was to go undrafted.
He showed enough for NBA scouts, getting drafted at pick 20 by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2018 draft.
In his first season for the Wolves, he fell behind All-Star Jimmy Butler in the pecking order. Butler was unhappy with the wolves however and was traded to Phillidelphia 76ers early in the season. This gave Okogie the starting role in his first season.
While limited offensively, he has shown an ability to be an elite-level defender on occasion. This limitation has meant that he has found himself behind Anthony Edwards and Malik Beasley on the depth chart. This has resulted in his statistics stagnating, has not shown the growth between seasons that the Wolves would have hoped for.
As stated, his defense can game-altering making him a valuable asset for Nigeria. He is also one of the most experienced players (in regards to NBA experience), which should see him see plenty of court time.
Minnesota Timberwolves averages - 7.3 points, 1.1 steals, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists
vs Team USA box score: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists
Agada is a 6 ft 5 point guard who is a Nigerian-Canadian player.
He played four years of college basketball for the University of Ottawa in Canada before going undrafted in the 2016 class.
Agada began his professional career playing in Spain and Canada making a solid contribution to his side, but not a starring role. He was a well-rounded player contributing to all aspects of the game.
Due to his consistent play, in 2020 he was approached by Hapoel Be'er Sheva in the Israeli Super League. This was where Agada really started to shine as a player and make NBA scouts take notice.
In his second season for Hapoel Be'er Sheva, Agada led the league in points (22.9) and steals (2.4) showing his ability on both sides of the floor. He is a dynamic guard that has solid range and a good slashing ability that makes him difficult to guard. He also has great length and has demonstrated above-average playmaking. The all-around versatility will mean he is one of Nigeria's most important players.
Get familiar with Caleb Agada, Nuggets fans. pic.twitter.com/bZupleeiKn
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) July 11, 2021
His most recent season has sparked the interest of NBA clubs, with the Denver Nuggets getting access to the point guard during the upcoming Summer League. He has also worked out with the Utah Jazz, showing that these playoff teams are looking for ready-made players to sign for the 2021-2022 season.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva 2021 season: 22.9 points, 2.4 steals, 6.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists,
vs Team USA box score: 17 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 70% from the field, 100% from three
Okoye is a 6 ft 6 guard/forward who is an American-born Nigerian player.
In high school, he was dominating force breaking Knightdale High School records by scoring over 1,300 points and 550 rebounds. Despite his play, he was only offered one division 1 scholarship which he ended up accepting.
He played four years of college basketball for Virginia Military Institute with his season being a breakout season that led to professional offers after graduating college.
Okoye is the definition of a journeyman playing for nine different clubs since 2013.
In 2014, he even had a stint in Australia playing for the Perth Redbacks in the NBL1. He proved to be too good for other teams averaging 28 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1 block per game.
After all his travel, he has settled down in the Spanish League spending the past few seasons playing for Gran Canaria and Zaragoza.
Okeye has shown his ability to be a reliable and serviceable player. He is a valuable asset that makes a significant impact on the culture of a team. This is evident with how Zaragoza resigned him for two more seasons, after spending the past few years at rival club Gran Canaria.
The swingman is a veteran on the Nigerian team having represented them in 2013 and 2015. While not the flashiest player, his effort and savvy make him a valuable player to mentor the new generation of Nigerian players coming through.
Spanish ACB League 2021 season: 8.8 points, 3 reb, 41.9% 0.9 steals
vs Team USA box score: 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assists
Metu is a 6 ft 9 forward/centre who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He played three years of college basketball for the University of Southern California. As a freshman, he had 54 blocks which were only behind Taj Gibson for the most blocks by a USC freshman. He was selected pick 49th by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2018 NBA draft.
Metu bounced between the Spurs and their G-League affiliate Austin Spurs struggling to cement a spot on the roster. He is a big versatile centre, that was limited with the ball in his hands.
The final straw for Metu was during the NBA bubble and San Antonio was missing LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles. He still wasn't able to solidify himself on the roster and was waived at the end of the season.
The Sacramento Kings gave Metu a lifeline in 2020, where he began to show improvement on offense. While never hitting a three-pointer for the Spurs in an NBA game, he hit 35.1% during his first season for the Kings. He also thrives in the pick and roll, being able to finish at the basket or pop out for a jumper to keep opposition defenders accountable.
This improvement not only shows the work he is putting into improving but how he can be used most effectively. Metu has the foundation of a stretch big man who can hold his own defensively. His frame and athleticism allow him to be a pick and roll threat which will generate plenty of opportunities for him and his teammates. He will be valuable for Nigeria playing small ball 5 or providing size against some other countries big men lineups.
Sacramento Kings 2020-2021 season 6.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 35.1% from 3
vs Team USA box score: 21 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 66.7% from the field, 75% from three
Iroegbu is a 6 ft 2 point guard who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He started his professional career by playing for Nigeria in AfroBasket 2017. At 23 years old, he had 14.8 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the tournament. He ended up being part of the tournament's top five players, garnering international recognition and interest from the Los Angeles Clippers.
The guard was waived by the Clippers but was sent to play with their G-League affiliate Agua Caliente Clippers in the 2017-2018 season. After a solid campaign, he signed for the German team Science City Jena.
After jumping between the G-League and German leagues, he got his big break playing in France Pro B. In the 2020-2021 season, he starred for Rouen putting other teams in the league on notice with 19.6 points per game.
His play got the attention of France Pro A team Élan Chalon who signed him in 2021.
Iroegbu is an offensive spark plug for Nigeria off the bench, as demonstrated in his performance against Team USA. In less than 10 minutes of play, he showcased his high-impact offense that could be a headache for opposition benches.
Efficiency will dictate how much of an impact that Iroegbu can have on Nigeria's Olympic run. Due to his explosiveness and instant offense, he is the X-factor for the Nigerian team. Maintaining similar percentages will go a long way in helping his team advance past the group stages.
Rouen 2020-2021 season: 19.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals
vs Team USA box score: 11 points, 2 rebounds, 60% from the field and from three
Okpala is a 6 ft 6 guard/forward who is an American-born Nigerian player.
He played three years of college basketball for Yale. In his Junior year, he was the Ivy League player of the year helped him attract the attention of NBA scouts and top 60 recruits. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski even predicted that Oni would be a first-round selection.
He ended up being selected in the 2019 draft by Golden State Warriors with the 58th pick but didn't stay there long. His draft rights were traded to the Utah Jazz for cash. While getting chosen lower than some predicted, he was the first Ivy League men's basketball player drafted since 1995.
In his first season in the NBA, he struggled for court time, eventually being assigned to Utah's G-League affiliate the Salt Lake City Stars. He showed his offensive upside and demonstrated a willingness to move the ball.
The Jazz was impressed with his play for the Stars and moved him to their roster for the 2020-2021 season. He ended up playing in 62 of top-seeded Utah's matches this season, with his shooting helping him seem the court.
Oni is still a young prospect but has shown flashes of a solid scorer with great size and athleticism for a guard/wing. At the G-League and college level, he has demonstrated an ability to be a passer and potential secondary ball handler.
Unlike a lot of other players on the Nigerian squad, Oni is more recognised for his offense than defense. While capable on the defensive end, he provides an ability to generate his own offense or set up teammates. While he is yet to realise this potential against NBA-level talent on a consistent basis, the Olympics might be Oni's opportunity to break out and start living up to his offensive potential.
Utah Jazz Averages: 2.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 34.6% from three
Salt Lake City Stars 2019-2020 season: 12.7 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 35.4% from three, 1.3 steals
vs Team USA box score: 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 50% from three