It will be another proud moment and a major slice of history for Adaora Elonu and Nigeria when they step out for Friday’s Quarter-Final clash with reigning champions and red-hot favorites USA.
When the plane wheels touched down in Tenerife last week, there was a modest sense of expectation that, as the reigning Women’s AfroBasket champions, the Nigerians could do something positive.
At the very least, collect their first-ever win at a FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
Even taking into account that play-caller Otis Hughley Jnr was parachuted into the coaching hot-seat only weeks before the tournament tipped off.
What has subsequently unfolded in the biggest of Spain’s Canary Islands to date, has been beyond their wildest dreams. Having beaten European powerhouse Turkey to get their first win, they not only followed it up with a success against Argentina, they made in a Euro- Double by pipping Greece 57-56 in a dramatic Quarter-Final Qualifications encounter.
It’s a fairytale for everyone involved – even for Elonu, who is a EuroLeague Women regular and has WNBA minutes to her name.
“We didn’t know what to expect from the World Cup as none of us had been here – it’s just a ride that we’re taking,” she confessed.
“I’m happy for us, because we’ve been through a lot and our motto was to stay together and we stayed together.
“Greece is a really tough team. I don’t know how we pulled it off, but I’m beyond happy and proud. It ranks really high in my career (as a win) just because of this group of girls. They are my family.
“The national team is who you are and your culture. It just resonates so much stronger than any other team – not to take anything away from any other team.
Next up, it’s the reigning champions and that is something that us hugely exciting for the Nigerian camp.
“Playing USA does sound really nice,” Elonu said. “I don’t know what to expect, but we’re just going to keep pushing. We go with the same mentality. As a player, as a competitor, you have to go with the same mentality.
“We’re not here, you know, just being happy to still be here. This is a new experience, but we want to put on the best show and performances that we can”.
“But here, the girls, what we’ve been through and what we’ve had to fight through just to get here, preparations, treatment – it’s been really hard.
“But the way that we stick together and have fun off the court, on the court, this is just a great moment.”
Elonu was also quick to hand credit to coach Hughley for the way he has galvanized the unit on the floor for this global test.
“Yeah I guess we can give the coach some credit,” she laughed. “It has been a whirlwind. I can’t stress enough how hard it’s been but we have persevered. The coach has stuck with us, he has believed in us and we believed in ourselves.”