Nigeria’s women basketball team remain positive about qualifying for next year’s Olympic Games
Two members of the Nigerian team that won bronze medal at the just concluded African Basketball Women’s Championship are optimistic that the country can still qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Senegal picked Africa’s sole automatic Olympic qualifying ticket after beating Cameroon to win the women’s Afrobasket.
However, Olayinka Sanni and Helen Ogunjimi believe Nigeria’s Olympic dream remains alive as they look forward to picking one of the five tickets on offer at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT) in June 2016. The event will offer 12 teams a second chance to battle for the five remaining places available for the Olympics.
Nigeria as well as AfroBasket Women 2015’s runners-up Cameroon should represent Africa in the WOQT, which also is set to include France, Spain, Belarus, Turkey, Cuba, The D’Tigress last played in the Olympics back in 2004, and not a single player in the team’s current squad has experienced the Olympics before.
But, for Sanni, who averaged 6.9 points per game in Cameroon, it is all about remaining positive.
“We just hope we can get there [WOQT], and somehow get to the Olympics. Our faith is still there,” she told FIBA.com.
“Our hopes right now is that of a road to redemption, hopefully that qualification get us there. It doesn’t matter how we get there as long as we do.”
For Ogunjimi, who had the second highest three-point shooting percentage (48.6 percent) at AfroBasket Women 2015, the Rio Games are not that far from the team’s capabilities.
“I believe it is possible,” she said. “We have to [qualify for the Olympics].”
Ogunjimi, who turns 31 later this month, feels that teams such as Belarus, Spain and France are tough to beat.
Finishing in the top five of the WOQT is all Scott Nnaji’s team needs to do in order to become the second African team at the 2016 Rio Games.
“For a lot of us it will be our last hurrah for basketball and playing for the national team. So we are going to use that energy and that momentum to push us through so we can get there, so we can be with the guys too.”
Umar Tijjani, the Chairman of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF), backs the players’ optimism, pledging to do everything in the institution’s power to make their Olympic dream come true.
“Hopefully the girls will understand what the mission is all about, and, hopefully the federation will do the right things,” he said.