July 9, 2012
Caracas, Venezuela (Reuters) – Nigeria will make their Olympic basketball debut in London after beating the Dominican Republic 88-73 in the decisive qualifier on Sunday.
Former Georgia Tech center Alade Aminu (2006-09) scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting, grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot in 16 minutes off the bench to aid the Nigerian effort. He will become the third Yellow Jacket basketball alumnus to play in the Olympics, joining Stephon Marbury (2004, Athens) and Chris Bosh (2008, Beijing). Bosh was slated to be on this year’s United States team, but withdrew due to an injury.
Aminu, who averaged 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in his career, including 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds as a senior in 2008-09, is of Nigerian descent on his father’s side. Aminu attended Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., and played briefly for the Miami Heat before beginning a career in Europe. He played for the Chalon team in France last winter, helping that team to the league championship.
Having arrived in Venezuela as complete underdogs in the 12-team tournament offering three London berths, Nigeria completed their memorable campaign with a resounding victory over the Dominicans – another surprise package.
Apart from the west African nation, who stunned former European champions Greece to reach the last four, Russia and Lithuania have also booked their London berths from this qualifier on Saturday.
The trio will join United States, Argentina, Spain, France, Tunisia, Brazil, Australia and China who had qualified earlier alongside hosts Great Britain.
Nigeria forward Ike Diogu capped an outstanding individual tournament with 25 points and 10 rebounds, confining his Dominican counterpart Al Horford of NBA’s Atlanta Hawks to just 12 points and shooting only five of 11 from the field.
With the Dominicans cutting the deficit to just two points at the end of the third quarter, Diogu nailed 10 successive points in the closing stages to send his team mates and a small band of Nigerian supporters into raptures.
“If you are a big-time player you have to relish those moments and that’s what I did, having decided to carry my team at crunch time,” Diogu told the world basketball governing body’s (FIBA) television in a courtside interview.
Forward Derrick Obasohan added: “We had the toughest schedule in the tournament but nothing was going to stop us tonight because we were on a mission.” (Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)