The Nigeria Basketball Federation has listed eight new faces in Nigeria’s 27-player preliminary squad for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Also in the preliminary squad are all the 12 players that won the 2015 AfroBasket in Tunisia.
Among the newcomers are Golden State Warriors centre Festus Ezeli and Thanasis Antetokounmpo of the New York Knicks’ D-League affiliate Westchester Knicks, with both players set to compete for final roster spots.
Sharpshooter Derrick Obasohan – a key member of Nigeria’s team that competed at the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament – is looking to return to the national team, having last featured at the London Olympics.
Ezeli has often expressed his intentions of representing his country and his turn might just have arrived.
Antetokounmpo, the older brother of Greece international Giannis Antetokounmpo, has long been linked to the African champions.
This past season, the 23-year-old forward had a short stint with New York Knicks, but it was with the Westchester Knicks that he impressed, averaging 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in the D-League.
While Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo is yet to decide on his future with the D’Tigers, this seems to be strongest possible group coach Will Voigt could have put together.
Umar Tijjani, NBBF Chairman, told FIBA.com: “These are the players that our head coach thought were right to work with.”
With warm-up games against Olympics champions USA set for July, the NBBF and Voigt made sure to include home-based players Abubakar Usman and Stanley Gumut.
“The 28th name was supposed to be Victor Oladipo but he has not yet decided and we don’t want to put his name out before his decision,” Tijjani told reporters. “He has been in training camp with the US national team and he has not made the team. So, sometimes decisions can be very tough when it comes to that.”
At Rio 2016, Nigeria will play in Group B and face Spain, Argentina, Lithuania, Brazil as well as one of the three teams that will qualify via the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs).
The team’s training camp is expected to open in Los Angeles or Bakersfield in June.
Nigeria 27-player preliminary squad for Rio 2016 Olympics: Usman Abubukar, Alade Aminu, Al-Farouq Aminu, Josh Akognon, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Suleiman Braimoh, Folarin Campbell, Ike Diogu, Ebi Ere, Festus Ezeli, Michael Gbinije, Stanley Gumut, Ekene Ibekwe, Shane Lawal, Trevor Mbakwe, David Nwaelele, Derrick Obasohan, Ike Ofoegbu, Andy Ogide, Chamberlain Oguchi, Stan Okoye, Jamal Olasewere, Olumide Oyedeji, Mike Umeh, Mfon Udofia, Ekpe Udoh and Ben Uzoh.