BY MAXWELL KUMOYE
Members of the all conquering and history making Nigeria senior female national basketball team, D’Tigress are due in Abuja from Kigali, the Rwandan capital this Sunday
On arrival the history makers are expected to be received by top officials of the federal ministry of sports and basketball stakeholders to a rousing reception.
On Saturday, Nigeria become the first team to win four FIBA Women’s AfroBasket titles in a row over the last four decades thanks to an 84-74 win over Senegal in Kigali, Rwanda.
Before Nigeria achieved this remarkable feat, Senegal was the last team to win four African titles in the 1970s stone age.
The victory is D’Tigresses’ sixth continental title, 20 years after they won their very first African diadem in 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique.
D’Tigress under the stewardship of coach Rena Wakama reduced the effectiveness Senegal’s playmaker Cierra Dillard and used their shooting strength to dominate and navigate their way through the final of Women’s AfroBasket.
Nigeria took off on a solid foundation and dominated the first and second quarters with a double figure margin of 12, 43-31. However, Senegal, the 11 time Champions closed the gap in the third quarter 62-57.
The African champions regained control of the game, and closed it out superbly to tell and show the world that they rule women’s basketball in Africa.
It was an all round master class show by D’Tigress as Ifunaya Okoro, hit 16 points, Elizabeth Balogun made 15 points, Sarah Ogoke added 13 points, and Munjanatu Musa hit a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds to contribute to the team’s victory.
Afrobasket Most Valuable Player, Amy Okonkwo contributed 14 points in sinking the hospitable Lionesses.
Coach Rena Wakama was critized and some at first doubted her ability to lead D’Tigress to defend their African title are muted now as she becomes the first female head coach to win a Women’s AfroBasket title.
After helping the team to rewrite the history of the slamming and dunking game in the continent, Amy Okonkwo, praised the role Coach Rena Wakama played in making it happen.
“We have a coach that believes in us. It has us fighting till the end, even in adversity. So we knew we had our destiny in our hands. Even when Senegal came back, we knew we had to step up, to keep together and we made it happen.”
On being named as the 2023 FIBA Women Afrobasket Championship MVP, Okonkwo has this to say: “I was playing in Mexico this summer, and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to come and lead. And I had the opportunity to lead the team. I told myself that I was not coming to Kigali to lose anything. And being MVP is a huge honour.”
D’Tigress finished the championship without dropping a game, it was five over five and 24 games unbeaten run dating back to 2015 in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
A very elated Wakama said the quarter final clash against Mozambique was the turning point of her Championship.
“Against Mozambique, we were down by 10 or 12 points. I looked into their eyes, and they told me: “Coach, we’re not going to lose this game. And they came back to win. That was the defining moment for me.”
Rena Wakama also revealed that, she was almost quitting the game of basketball but asked the sovreingn Lord of the universe if she should hold on for awhile. “It has been a long year for me. I asked God for a sign, and this trophy was the biggest of them all.”
Meanwhile, the President of Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Musa Ahmadu Kida has congratulated the team for making the country proud.
Kida said this victory is extra sweet because it was made in Nigeria all round, trained in Nigeria, coached by a Nigerian, dressed by a Nigerian apparel brand.
“The success of the D’Tigress has again proved that the NBBF is ready, willing and will continue to tick the right boxes for the game of basketball to grow and flourish in the country.”
He assured the team of more support and he also thank the Sports Ministry for supporting the team.
Another member of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Abba Abdulqadri Kaka, said that the the victory is well deserved.
“We shall continue to do our very best as a Federation and with the support of the Federal Government and well meaning stakeholders we will lift the game in all aspect.” The chairman of the NBBF Division 2 League Management Committee, stated.