Nigerian prospects set to take over the 2020 NBA draft
18th of November is the date bookmarked by a lot of NBA fans, its draft day, perhaps the most important day of the pre-season, a day where decisions made could shape the future of franchises for years to come.
And now the pool of draft-crazy fans has increased a bit this year, welcoming some Nigerians eager to see where the numerous draft prospects of the same nationality as them end up.
The West African nation has always had a bit of history with the NBA, one of the greatest players of all time, Hakeem Olajuwon is of Nigerian descent, he himself selected 1st overall in the 1984 draft.
Since then the amount of drafted players with Nigerian descent grew exponentially, a good number of Nigerian names started appearing in the first round as well,Bam Adebayo, Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, AlFarouq Aminu, OG Anunoby, Festus Ezeli and Jahlil Okafor are some of the names that come to mind.
Although there hasn’t seem to be much success in the way of Nigerians born in Nigeria, only Yinka Dare who went 14th overall in 1994 to the New Jersey Nets, Michael Olowokandi who was the first overall pick by the LA Clippers in 1998 and Olumide Oyedeji, 42nd overall to the Seattle Supersonics in the year 2000 were actually born in Nigeria.
It appears that narrative is about to change though, out of the record-breaking 8 players of Nigerian descent in the 2020 NBA draft, 2 of them were actually born in Nigeria and very well stand a solid chance of being first round picks.
Precious Achiuwa and Udoka Azubuike are probably the most Nigerian names you’re ever going to hear, and the boys themselves appear to be quite proud of their heritage and are quick to speak well of their fatherland when giving the chance.
Probably the most athletic player in this year’s draft, Precious Achiuwa is a 6 foot 9 power forward with incredible mobility, unexpected of someone his size, and a college-ball highlight reel that could easily be mistaken for that of an NBA veteran, yes, he really is that good.
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Precious moved to the United states with his entire family in the middle of high school and continued his education with Montverde academy, where he dominated finishing high school in 2019 as a consensus top 15 player in the country, a McDonalds All American, and headed into college as a 5-star recruit with an ESPN rating of 95.
Talking to ESPN via a pre-draft zoom call, when asked about the number of Nigerians in this year’s draft class, Achiuwa responded “I think it’s big,” It just shows there’s a big talent culture in Nigeria when it comes to basketball, athleticism and athletes as a whole in general. It speaks to how competitive we are and our willingness to be better in whatever we do.”
His one and only year in college didn’t disappoint either, finishing the season with a 2019-20 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards, he was also ranked 13th in the nation and led the AAC in rebounding average.
He was also selected in the 2019-20 All-AAC First Team and All-Freshman Team, before then declaring for the 2020 NBA draft as a 19-year old, instantly making him one of the most attractive prospects in this draft class, and a definite first round pick.
Udoka Azubuike on the other hand is an elite physical presence with an imposing demeanour and has always been a highly rated player since his high school days up until college.
Azubuike moved to the United States from Nigeria in his early teens on a basketball scholarship after he was discovered through the basketball without borders program, and he didnt waste any time to blend in and dominate.
After several individual high school and collegiate honours, including the prestigious Kareem AbdulJabbar centre of the year award, Udoka Azubuike is now 21 years old and ready to test himself in the best basketball league in the world.
If both Precious Achiuwa and Udoka Azubuike are drafted in the top 30, it would be the first time two players born in Nigeria were first round picks in the same draft, and the first time since 2013 two first round picks with Nigerian affiliation, when Victor Oladipo was selected 2nd and Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th overall.
Although not born in Nigeria, Jordan Nwora is perhaps the player with the most ties to Nigeria in this draft class, having already represented the country several times as an international and under the tutelage of his dad who also happens to be the head coach of the Nigerian national team, Jordan Nwora.
The 6 foot 7 small forward is one that could potentially be a dream acquisition for any franchise, projected as more of a back-end first rounder, that means any team he joins would be getting a college veteran with international experience and sky-high basketball IQ.
Jordan himself speaks on his own credentials in a Zoom interview with journalist, Njie Enow, “I think I can make a big impact right away, I think I’m somebody that can actually step in and play right away” he said.
Confident words from a confident player, Jordan wasn’t done there, he continues by saying “I’ve had lots of experience both in college and playing with the bros at the national level, and I really believe that I’m the best shooter in this draft.”
Words of reaffirmation for himself and the NBA scouts who would have ingested many tapes of Jordan by now and I have to say I share his confidence, Nwora is one of the very best scorers in this draft.
Whether from beyond the arc, midrange or tiptoeing his way past bigger defenders to reach the basket and scoring in the paint, a lot of the times with contact, Jordan looks like the closest to a complete package.
The other obvious Nigerians on the list include Onyeka Okongwu, Isaac Okoro, Zeke Nnaji, Daniel Oturu, not forgetting Desmond Bane, who although may not appear to be Nigerian at first glance, certainly has ties to the country.
If draft projections and mock drafts are to be believed, then Onyeka Okongwu might be going as early as the 4th or 5th overall pick, and he believes he should be even higher than that, claiming to be a better prospect than the potential top 3 of James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards.
“I feel like I’m higher than all of them,” he told ESPN. “I just do all the little things well. I just play basketball. I know how to win.” Said the 6 foot 9 centre, and he’s most likely right, although it would be interesting to see if the NBA front offices and scouts agree with him.
Okongwu has drawn comparison to another NBA big man of Nigerian descent, Bam Adebayo due to the several similarities in their style of play and the dominant nature of their short college ball careers, a tag he’s more than capable of living up to.
Next up, 6 foot 6 small forward for the Auburn Tigers, Isaac Okoro was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Nigerian parents, and he’s projected to be a top 10 first round pick at the very least.
An exciting 19 year old, his one and only year in collegiate basketball with Auburn was enough to propel his draft stock quite highly, and from what I hear, he has already been training with the Cleveland Cavaliers and having interviews with various teams such as the Toronto Raptors.
After a quick detour, we return to the trend of big men, with Daniel Oturu and Zeke Nnaji whose favourite positions are Center and Power Forward standing at 6 foot 10 and 6 foot 11 respectively.
Daniel Oturu has a different level of pressure on him, no player from his collegiate basketball team, the Minnesota Gophers have been drafted to the NBA since Kris Humphries in 2004 and the Nigerian is widely expected to end the drought.
Unlike the previous seven, this last one’s link to Nigeria is not quite as obvious, you can’t tell from his name, Desmond Bane (by far the coolest name in the draft by the way) but the link is there all the same.
Born in America, Desmond very much identifies with the United States, but his father is Nigerian so that justifies his inclusion, but while his nationality might be up for debate his basketball ability definitely isn’t.
The 22-year old is a Guard, comfortable at playing either the 1 or the 2, and with his imposing 6 foot 6 inches frame and 215 pound body size, he’s proven so far that he’s not your regular guard, supremely skilled and athletic.
With the draft set to happen on Wednesday the 18th of November, the first ever to be done digitally, there’s a high chance all 8 of the aforementioned players will get drafted, it would be made even better if they all manage to go in the first round.