Ike Diogu, a key member of the Nigeria men’s team in recent years, can’t wait to play for Nigeria at FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in the Republic of Congo in August. Although Nigeria finished with a 1-4 record at the Rio Olympics, and Diogu led his team in scoring with averages of 12 points and 8.6 rebounds, the 2.03m forward says there’s no reason for disappointment as they have a crown to defend.
Having suffered a leg injury just days before the FIBA AfroBasket in Tunisia two years ago, the 33-year-old saw from the sidelines Nigeria win their first-ever continental championship.
So in the build-up to the Congo-Brazzaville showpiece, he spoke to FIBA.com and explained why he is eager to compete on African soil again.
You have experienced almost everything with your national team – wins, losses, injuries and two Olympic Games appearances. Can you elaborate on your commitment to the Nigerian national team?
I intend to represent the country until I retire. I have so much pride every time I put on the jersey. We have made so many strides so I owe it to future generations to continue to make sure we leave the national team in better shape than when I first joined.
The FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in Congo-Brazzaville is four months away. And obviously, Nigeria is the team everyone will look to beat. What group of players can we expect from the African champions?
As far as players go, I can’t confirm who will play. I can only speak for myself and I’m looking forward to defending the crown in Congo.
A lot has been said about the non-selection of locally-based Nigerian players to the national team. What’s your take on the issue?
We choose the best players to represent Nigeria regardless of where they are based. Nigerians are all over, so we want the best collection of talent regardless of where you live. I welcome all local players that can play; I know a lot of them and have played with them. So I try and leave that up to the coaches as far as who they pick because the talent pool is rich so someone will always be left out.
The Nigerian Basketball Federation has announced preparation games against top teams (including Australia, Lithuania, France, Serbia and China). What does it say about Nigeria’s status on the international stage?
I feel that we are very well respected. If you look at Rio (Olympics 2016) compared to London (Olympics 2012) we were in every game except our first game against Argentina. So we could have easily gone 4-1 in our group. We were that close to doing that as opposed to 1-4. So teams know we have a special group that can play with anyone. So I’m excited about this summer.
Having won the FIBA AfroBasket two years ago, what’s your assessment of teams such as Angola, Senegal and Tunisia?
This FIBA AfroBasket will be very tough. Those teams will be extremely tough to beat. I am looking forward to having a healthy successful FIBA AfroBasket because last time I was injured. So for me, this is a huge summer to show everyone in Africa I’m back healthy and ready to help us win a championship god willing. But Senegal, Tunisia, Angola are so talented it will be a dogfight to win it all. But I’m excited about the challenge.