Naija Basketball Association? 8 Nigerian players drafted into the NBA
In what turned out to be an utterly satisfying turn of events, all 8 basketball talents with links to Nigeria saw their dreams fulfilled by getting drafted to different teams in the NBA, a 100% success rate.
By far the best draft night from a Nigerian perspective, one that will live long in the memory of basketball fans in the country and may well even be the start of a new trend, leading to more Nigerian representation in the NBA in the future.
However, before the future is the present, and even that is looking pretty good, 8 more players are about to further improve Nigeria’s reputation in the NBA, first of which is Isaac Okoro, selected 5th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 1st among the Nigerians.
The 6 foot 6 small forward will be heading to the Cleveland (as soon as he’s done with his eleborate draft party of course) and the Cavs know exactly what they’re getting, a lot of energy, excitement and athleticism, the kind of player to get the fans on their feet, as soon as they’re allowed back in the arenas.
Immediately followed by another Nigerian, 19 year old Power Forward/Center, Onyeka Okongwu was drafted 6th overall by the Atlanta Hawks, in what already looks like a perfect fit if he can hit the ground running.
The Hawks have been crying out for an elite big, capable at both ends of the court and so was Onyeka, who was in tears at the realisation of being drafted, an emotional moment for the young man and his family.
He’s already forming some chemistry with his new teammate, Trae Young on Twitter, and that may well translate to some great plays on the court, the thought of the lobs and the pick plays are enough to make the Atlanta fans salivate.
It would take 14 more picks to see another Nigerian get drafted with Precious Achiuwa at 20, followed by 3 more Nigerian picks in the final 10, meaning the country boasted 6 players picked in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft.
Precious Achiuwa joins the Miami Heat, selected 20th overall, the power forward adds his strength and toughness to the Heat roster that made a run to the NBA finals last season, and with fellow Nigerian big man, Bam Adebayo to teach him the ropes, the sky might just be the limit.
Along with Precious, Udoka Azubuike was also drafted, the 27th pick by the Utah Jazz, making it the first time two Nigerian-born players have been drafted in the first round.
19 year old Power Forward, Zeke Nnaji is headed to the Denver Nuggets, selected 22nd overall, and the beautiful scenes of celebration from right in his living room after hearing his named called by commissioner Adam Silver was an added bonus.
Zeke and the rest of his family were fully clothed in native attire and his mom in particular drew a lot of attention, what one might even refer to as ‘breaking the internet’.
The last Nigerian in the first round also happened to be the very last pick of the round, Memphies Griezzlies via the Boston Celtics selected Guard Desmond Bane 30th overall, and he’s expected to fit right in with their young and talented group of guards.
In a night of history and records, another one was snapped, Daniel Oturu must have been under some fair amount of pressure, carrying the hopes of his entire college, no player from the Minnesota Gophers men’s college basketball team had been drafted to the NBA in the last 16 years.
Daniel Oturu broke that dock when he was selected early in the 2nd round, with the 33rd overall pick by the New York Knicks via the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6 foot 10 center will be strutting his stuff at the esteemed Maddison Square Garden.
As the night continued to drag on the remaining picks getting fewer by the minute, I’m sure a lot of people were anxiously waiting to see if their favourite player would get drafted, I know I was.
That anxiety turned into pure excitement midway into the 2nd round, when NBA deputy commissioner, Mark Tatum called the 8th and final Nigerian player in the draft, Jordan Nwora as the 45th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee Bucks have been contenders for the past two years but keep falling short mostly due to an over-reliance on star man, Giannis Antetokounmpo and no real help from the bench, something Jordan Nwora might be able to help with.
If he blends in well and early enough, his scoring ability could prove valuable to the Bucks, chipping in points and staying solid on defense whenever he gets his chances, predominantly off the bench I presume.
Despite being the lowest of the picks, I still believe Jordan could go on to become not only the best player on this list, but one of the best in the entire draft class.
If history is anything to go by, then you know it doesn’t matter much how you got into the league, 1st or 60th, its performances in practice, actual games and the development of the player that counts.
Nikola Jokic, one of the best if not the best Center in the NBA right now was picked 41st overall in 2014, the great Manu Ginobili was selected 57th overall in 1999, and there are many other stories like that.
And it swings both ways too, as much as some great players have been selected late, a number of early picks have turned out to be busts as well, proving that the draft is not an accurate depiction of talent.
That’s the beauty of sports in general, 1 to 60, it doesn’t really matter much now, everybody has a clean slate to show their coaches and fans what they can offer their various teams.
There you have it, all their years of hardwork and determination, tunnel vision, laser focus on one singular goal, making it to the NBA has been achieved, but if they were smart enough to make it this far, I’m sure they’re smart enough to realise this is only just the beginning.