D’ Tigers Head Coach Alex Nwora may not be too known in this climes but the Erie Community College tactician is sure proving his critics wrong.
While many who had objected heavily to his appointment by the Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF, under the leadership of Engr. Musa Kida say that he is a wrong choice, Nwora has kept his cool not ready to trade words with any party but has rather allowed his job speak for him.
First, he took an entirely new team outside the crew that won Nigeria’s first ever AfroBasket trophy in 2015 with the exception of team captain Ike Diogu to finish second place at the AfroBasket 2017.
He followed this with a top of Group B performance for Nigeria in Bamako, Mali at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers. Again, the team was made up of a mixture of players from the 2015, 2017 and some new call-ups.
In this interview with JOE APU at the Hotel MiCasa, where D’ Tigers were lodged in Nwora opens up on his critics, challenges on the job and points out that those who compare him with Coaches Ayo Bakare and Will Voigt should understand that he is not in competition with them in any way but in a class of his own.
Enjoy the interview!
Congratulation you made 3/3 in this first round, how does that make you feel?
It makes me feel good. Good knowing that we put in a lot of work to assemble this team in a short period of time that we have. Thanks to Musa Adamu, my assistant coaches Abdulraman Mohammed and Adewunmi Aderemi for all their help for the short period of time we had for this assignment. I think it was a good outing for us given the short period of time.
How did you manage to get this team together in a short period of time?
Well, after Tunisia where we won the Afrobasket 2017 silver medal, I started researching on all the Nigerian players playing in Europe because I knew it would be tough to have all the players we had in Tunisia because of the window. We had to watch a lot of videos and had to travel a lot to see those we could see. Our Team Manager, Musa Adamu traveled and got me tapes to analyse and see who can be of help to the national team, so I give him all thanks for the diligence in helping scout these guys that we brought this time around.
What should we be looking forward to in June?
We can’t take anybody for granted. Hopefully, we’ll have enough time to camp and prepare and also have enough time to evaluate all the players that would be available for June. We’ll have more players then and it would be down to seeing them battling for a place in the national team. The toughest part will be choosing the players. I am happy some of these guys that came in this first period did very well and those who did not make it to Bamako are angling to return to the team and that is going to make the camp a tough one.
The team that came second at the AfroBasket 2017 is different and so is this present squad here in Mali. How do you cope with handling them?
What we are trying to do is to build a dynasty for Nigeria basketball and want to have a good resource that any responsible organisation (country) should have.
As of now we’re looking to rebuild the national team and we have some veterans who are leading the way trying to make sure we move up to standard with the new NBBF president and match up with his vision for Nigerian basketball. We’re also trying to put together local players and foreign players which we are unable to do before now. I have all my players video tapes including the ones I am not able to see come to compete for us this time around. With time all will be clear moving forward for the federation so that we can demand to have a proper way of camping and evaluating both home and foreign based players.
For the period that you have been in charge of Nigeria, what will you say have been your major challenges?
Emmm…truthfully, the challenge is just assembling the players, getting to know who has the potential to represent Nigeria. Like the first tournament I went out with the team in Tunisia when I was offered the job, even though I had the experience from coaching the Cape Verde national team for a couple of years, it’s just assembling the players and getting to know their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have enough time to see what I wanted before the tournament. This time around, the situation is pretty the same as I have was not opportune to see what I was bringing too. We had to make a couple of adjustment as the games were progressing. Our first game against Uganda, we were not as sharp as we should have been and had to get better with the game against Rwanda and Mali. Hopefully, in a matter of time, we’ll get our acts together.
Talking about preparation, when the NBBF offered you this job, how many years contract were you signed on?
Well, no contract talks for now. They are also trying to get their feet solid after Musa Kida was democratically elected as president.
When I was offered the job, I decided to take it up knowing that basketball is my life and profession. I don’t want to take a contract not knowing what is involved because this is my life and my profession.
I am just privileged to be coaching Nigeria and I thank them for the opportunity they gave me to be the head coach, money is not the issue for me now, my issue is making sure that I build a team that everybody will be proud of. I am also a Nigerian; I have to sacrifice myself if I want to keep making it. When the contract offer comes, it would be known to all but I will always go the extra mile because I am a Nigerian for life.
What is your take on the opposition in the upper window where the likes Senegal, Mozambique and Cote d’ Ivoire would be up against Nigeria?
I see us running into another problem due to the fact that some players would be returning to their clubs and it’s going to be a challenge. Like I said, the preparation is going to start ahead. Talking to clubs, looking at who is going to be available and when they are going to be allowed. All these are things we need to be working on before that time.
What are Nigeria’s chances at the Commonwealth Games where Argentina, Turkey and Australia will competein our group?
Everybody knows Nigeria is one of the power houses in Africa and unfortunately for us, we may not be able to get some of our best players for the Commonwealth Games. We will have one or two foreign players there but apart from that, we’ll have more of our players from the domestic league. That notwithstanding, we’ll present a team that would give their best. Basketball is not just about winning and losses. For me, it’s all about the growth of the sport. And am happy the ministry is showing love and support to us.
People often want to compare former national team coaches Ayo Bakare and Will Voigt with you, will you say you are bothered by this?
No. We have over 170 million citizens in Nigeria. I can’t listen to what everyone says. I am a professional and am only concerned about my job and my employer. I came to coach Nigeria because of my passion to help my country and like I said, I am working under no contract as at now. It’s not about money or being compared with anybody. I am not comparing myself with anybody. I love Ayo Bakere and will always learn from him. I also look up to people like Sanni Ahmed, I look up to Oliver Babatunde Johnson and also Masai Ujiri, who has attained the highest level anybody can attain in basketball coming out from Nigeria. So I am not in competition with anybody. I want to leave a foot print just as anybody has done and hopefully, people can understand that am not competing with anyone but I only need everybody to support me.
Both Ayo Bakare and Will Voigt have done great jobs in the past for Nigeria given their records. They have done their bit and have their legacies which I respect and expect that they also respect me now that I am on the job. There is simply nothing to compare me with them because we’re not in the same class.
I have the privilege to also have the experience of basketball while I was in United States. I have played at the highest level and I know am a junkey when it comes to basketball. If we start comparing ourselves, it won’t be fair for us as coaches and the country. Aside from that, comparing myself with them will make me look like a hypocrite.
What is your ultimate goal for Nigeria basketball and how do you intend to empower coaches back home?
I have been doing coaching training abroad. I can bring more people along with me especially for the local coaches and this is exactly what they need more than anything else. Again after having the passion, they got to have the patience also. It’s not about what you can get out of the game but what you can give the game. And then everything will improve.
I don’t think Nigeria coaches are as bad as people want to paint us but the truth is we don’t have the opportunity. Training them once in a while is a good idea but it’s also important that they invest in themselves like Peter Favour Ahmedu who takes time off to be in the United State of America. He did his internship with me and other coaches in Buffalo area. This is something other coaches should learn from so that they can be more versatile when it comes to coaching.
How did you get into basketball?
I started out in Anambra State and coaches Mabel and Kanu were the ones that started me up in basketball. However, the person that really paid attention to me was coach Sunny Edemba (late) who took me up during a tournament. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to the United States of America. I played four years in America and I graduated with a degree. I went abroad and played with the Halem Globetrotters before going back for my masters. It was after my masters that I went into coaching.
I have spent almost 25 years in coaching. I coached Cape Verde national team for six and a half years. My dad who is a chief back home is one of the high ranking chiefs in Onitsha. When he was a civil servant, he was very instrumental in sports. He was the team manager of Vasco Da Gama football club of Enugu. My family has always been a soccer family. I was the one who broke out when I started growing tall and took to basketball. While abroad, I was given several awards when I was playing. Not many people have the chance to do something they love doing but I am one of those. In fact, I don’t know what I’ll be doing if not involved with basketball.
Are your kids also into basketball?
I have four kids. My first kid, Jordan is a basketball player and one of the best in the United States. He has played under coach Pertino, who is one of the best in America in America and I respect him a lot. Jordan was voted one of the best shooters in 2017 and his abilities amazes me.
My first daughter is almost sixteen years old and she also plays basketball but wants to be a lawyer. All my kids are all into basketball one way or the other. On Sundays I do take them to the gym to address basic fundamental and after that, I do give them some Ice cream. That’s my time with them and I use that time to make sure it’s fun and they appreciate it. It’s been fun and they are very young. After that, we always travel to watch Jordan play.
If you are not into basketball, what would you have been doing?
I am a graphics designer. That’s the degree I bagged before going for my masters. I like working with people to share knowledge of whatever I have.
Finally, do you have the dream of coming back to settle in Nigeria?
Well, it’s my country. My father and my mother are here and as much as possible I try to come home at the slightest opportunity but because of my job in the States, it would be difficult for me to come home fully but I tell you, I love being home with my parents.