By Mukwuzi Joseph
The U.S. men’s basketball team lost to Nigeria 90-87 on Saturday night, July10, in its first pre-Olympic exhibition game.
Nigeria who had six NBA players and former NBA head coach Mike Brown at the helm, beat USA, inflicting the country’s first ever loss to an African Nation.
The landmark victory came nine years after the U.S. embarrassed Nigeria 156-73 at the London Olympics, the U.S.’ biggest win in Olympic men’s basketball history.
That Nigerian team included just one NBA player (Al-Farouq Aminu).
However, this Nigerian team includes Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala of the Miami Heat, Chimezie Metu of the Sacramento Kings, Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Miye Oni of the Utah Jazz with Jahlil Okafor and Jordan Nwora also on the bench, making it the largest contingent of NBA players on a single Olympic roster for any non-American nation in history.
“I’m kind of glad it happened,” said U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich, noting that Nigeria has been practicing together since late June and the Americans for four days. “That loss means nothing if we don’t learn from it, but it can be the most important thing in this tournament for us to learn lessons from it.
“I don’t think anyone should act nor would we act [like] that this is the end of the world.”
Popovich said the difference in the game was three-pointers. Nigeria went 20 for 42, making twice as many as the U.S. It also won the rebounding battle 46-34.
The U.S. meanwhile had superstars like Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Kevin Love while superstars including LeBron James and Stephen Curry withdrew from the Olympic team consideration .
Only once has an African nation ever challenged a U.S. men’s senior national team — the U.S. beat Egypt 34-32 at the first world championship in 1950, according to USA Basketball records.
No African nation has never made the Olympic men’s basketball quarterfinals. From 2000 into 2016, African nations lost 28 consecutive Olympic games to non-African nations.
Congrats to Nigeria.