Sam Vincent|: Beating the Odds

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Until recently, the Nigeria Basketball Federation was in turmoil. It had two factional presidents –Tijani Umar and Musa Ahmadu-Kida-claiming the right to run the NBBF and the situation is seriously rubbing-off on the growth and development of the sport in the country. However, head coach of Nigerian women’s team, D’Tigress, Sam Vincent, against all odds, led his team to win the 2017 AfroBasket in Mali, which Nigeria last won on home soil in 2005, Kunle Adewale writes

The June 13 federations’ general election in Abuja ended in controversy as most of the 33 federations complained of discrepancies. In the Nigeria Basketball Federation, while Musa Ahmadu-Kida’s faction was conducting an election in Abuja, Kano was the venue of the Tijani Umar’s faction’s election 24 hours before the general election, with both claiming to be the genuine president.

As a result of the rancour within the basketball family, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) refused to recognise any of the factions. However, for communication purposes it deals with Ahmadu-Kida’s faction.

The world basketball governing body indeed asked the Nigeria Basketball Federation to resolve the disagreement that followed the June 13 election conducted for the federation alongside other 33 associations under the supervision of the sports ministry and the Nigeria Olympic Committee.

FIBA made its position known via a letter sent to Kida and Umar and signed by its Secretary General, Patrick Baumann. A group led by the Umar who served as the NBBF president until the dissolution of the boards of federation held a splinter election on June 12 in Kano ahead of the government- approved one of June 13 and since then, both sides have laid claim to the NBBF board. Even though the Kida-led board was inaugurated on July 21 in Abuja by the country’s sports minister alongside other federations, both sides have continued to lay claim to the leadership of Nigeria basketball.

The letter stated, “FIBA is not entirely satisfied that either election was carried out in accordance with the FIBA General Statues. Consequently, pursuant to Article 9.10 of the FIBA General Statutes, FIBA cannot recognise either election.”

It was in the midst of the turmoil that head coach, Sam Vincent led the Nigerian basketball team, D’Tigress, to the 2017 AfroBasket in Bamako, Mali.

The team emerged the new African champions after beating defending champions, Senegal, by 65-48 in the final played at the Sports Pavilion in Bamako. The head coach of the Women’s Senior National basketball team was never in doubt of D’Tigress having an impressive outing at the recently tournament.

Prior to leaving for the competition during D’Tigress’ last warm-up game against Raptors at the Indoor Sports hall of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, despite suffering 78 points to 65 defeat, the coach was optimistic. He believed there was a marked improvement in the way the team played as they were able to reduce the 16 points deficit in their earlier 71 points to 55 loss to just 13 in less than 24 hours.

“I feel great, the ladies are working hard, we got a good training camp in Florida. We have a solid local training camp and I feel we have good players here who are ready to compete. I feel good about our chances going into the tournament.

“Defensively, we have to be better, offensively, we have to get a little bit sharper. The good thing is that the tournament is not starting tomorrow. We still have about seven days and by the time we actually play the game, we will be a little bit sharper than we were tonight,” he said.

The 54-year-old who led D’Tigress to their second Afrobasket title in 2005 was never in doubt in the ability of the players to bring back the title.

“I definitely feel we can do it again. I feel like this is a great team that we are putting together and now we just have to focus on the last four or five days before we head to Mali, so I feel good about our chances,” Vincent had said before the team’s departure.

On arrival in Bamako for the competition, after the team’s first training session, an optimistic Vincent said the team had enough talents and experience to stand tournament and true to type the team did not disappoint. “I like the way the team is working right now. We feel good about the roster. The players are experienced and we have got post players, shooters and we are solid on defence,” Vincent had said.

Born in 1963 as James Samuel Vincent, the retired professional basketball player won the State of Michigan “Mr. Basketball” award in 1981, the first year the award was given. He attended Lansing’s Eastern High School, where he scored 61 points in one game as a senior, breaking the previous city scoring record of 54 set by Magic Johnson at Everett High School.

He was awarded the Sporting News All-America honors in 1985. After graduating from college, he was selected by the Bolton Celtics with the twentieth pick of the 1985 NBA draft. He played two seasons for the Celtics, winning an NBA Championship ring as a reserve in 1986, before joining the Seattle SuperSonic, who promptly traded him to the Chicago Bulls for Sedale Threatt. After one-and-a-half solid seasons with the Bulls, he was selected by the Orlando Magic in the 1989 NBA expansion draft, and he finished his NBA career with the Magic in 1992, scoring 3,106 points and tallied 1,543 assists during his seven-year tenure in the league.

Shortly after retiring, Vincent worked at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Walt Disney World. During the late 1990s, he coached basketball in South Africa, and he has also coached in Greece, Netherlands, Nigeria and the NBDL. At the 2004 Summer Olympics, he led the Nigerian women’s basketball team to a 68–64 victory over South Korea, which was the first ever victory by an African nation in an Olympic women’s basketball contest.

 Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday congratulated D’Tigress on its victory at the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Tournament in Mali and consequently qualifying Nigeria for the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain.

A statement by his chief spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari joined other sports-loving Nigerians in saluting the heroic performance of the victorious D’Tigress over their Senegalese counterpart in the final of the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Tournament on Sunday. “The President commends the players for displaying uncommon strength, confidence, skill and dexterity in their victory over the defending champions.

“President Buhari urges members of the team and their handlers to remain focused and dedicated even as they prepare for greater glory to Nigeria at the forthcoming FIBA World Cup.

“The President assures the team, its managers and the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) of his support and that of the Federal Government to ensure that they excel against other top competitors in Spain,” the statement said.

Also, the factional President of the NBBF, Umar, has sent a congratulatory message to the officials and players of D’Tigress for winning a third Afrobasket Championship title in Bamako, on Sunday.

Umar, expressed his delight at the commitment of the Aisha Mohammed-captained team at the championship, after they ended with a 100 per cent performance winning all their games.  “The determination of the players and officials of D’Tigress at the Afrobasket Championship in Mali tells a lot about the character of the team. They have just set precedence for other national teams in other sports in Nigeria, to remain focused even in the midst of political instability in any of the sports federations. Athletes should at all times not be involved in leadership tussles by sports administrators. With an enabling environment, they should get the job done.”

Umar also reiterated his readiness to engage the Ahmadu-Kida group in a final reconciliation as directed by world basketball body FIBA before the end of November. He urged the men’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, to take a cue from the performances of the women’s team to go all the way to Tunisia and win the Afrobasket Men’s Championship, especially as they would be playing as defending champions.

Buhari on Wednesday hosted the victorious national female basketball team, D’Tigress, before the commencement of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The President, while hosting the players, announced cash gifts of N1 million each for members of the team and N500,000 each to the team’s officials.