Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris is one of 13 NBA players named on Nigeria’s Olympic Games preliminary roster by head coach Mike Brown at a training camp in California.
Nigeria opened camp on June 20 in preparation for the Games in Tokyo, which start on July 23, and will play exhibition games against the USA, Argentina, and Australia between July 10 and 13.
Morris, whose nationality switch to Nigeria was only announced in March, is one of eight former and current NBA players in line to make their international debuts for Nigeria, while five others already have D’Tigers experience.
Brown’s big gets are the arrivals of Miye Oni, OG Anunoby and Jahlil Okafor. The trio are among several players that Brown had been courting for D’Tigers since he was named as Nigeria coach two years ago, and their names on the roster has been met with excitement in the Nigerian basketball fraternity.
Also among the eight are Utah’s Udoka Azubuike, as well as the Miami duo of KZ Okpala and Precious Achiuwa. Festus Ezeli, who won an NBA championship with Golden State, rounds up the list of debutants.
Azubuike, Achiuwa and Jordan Nwora — who has already been representing Nigeria from his college days, and played at the 2019 FIBA World Cup — are among the nine players of Nigerian origin who were selected in the 2020 NBA Draft, and the coach had nothing but high praise for them.
Warriors assistant coach Brown told ESPN: “They’ve been playing really well, most of them have contributed to their teams in different ways, some in bigger ways than others.
“You look at Isaac Okoro [who is not on this Nigeria roster] with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he is top in form. Every time I look at the box score from their games, he’s scoring in double digits. And so, the impact that he’s having in Cleveland, with their young team, is monumental and every year his role is going to increase with that franchise.
“And then you look at Precious Achiuwa from the Miami Heat, he’s on track to be a fantastic player and he went through a period where he was starting for them down there.
“I could go on and on in naming the contributions that each guy is bringing to the table for their teams, which is exciting for me, and it should be exciting for all of Nigeria, with the impact that they’re having in the NBA, because they are the future of the program.”
Debutants aside, Brown has more than a sizable number of returnee internationals to call upon, and has listed Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves), Gabriel Vincent (Miami Heat), Al-Farouq Aminu (Chicago Bulls), Jordan Nwora (Milwaukee Bucks) and Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings).
All five are making their return to the team after taking part at the 2019 FIBA World Cup where Nigeria became the first African team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
But Brown is not only about NBA players, and 2021 NBA Draft prospect Ike Ndugba is one from a group of college players who will be looking emulate Nwora by playing for Nigeria before making an appearance in the NBA.
Brown’s 49-man preliminary roster includes a host of US college players with NBA prospects, experienced players from Europe and around the world, including many with NBA experience, as Nigeria go on a quest to become the first African team to win an Olympic basketball medal.
Team captain Ike Diogu returns for his swansong and will lead a posse of veterans like Ekpe Udoh and Ben Uzoh, who is fresh off competing at the Basketball Africa League.
Nigeria are in group B alongside Australia, and undetermined winners of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia and Croatia from June 29 to July 4.
Brown is expecting some stiff competition, even from opposition still battling with qualifying: “It’s going to be tough, the competition is going to be fierce.
“Team Australia are ranked third in the world, so they’re not going to be any pushover. And I’m sure the teams that still need to qualify for the Olympics are going to be good in their own right.
“And the thing that they’re going to have that’s advantageous over us is, they’re already going to be practicing for the pre-qualifying tournament that they got to participate in, so they’re going to be seasoned and ready to go.
“Come Olympic time, they’re going to be in some sort of a groove when it comes time to play games.”