Rise of Nigeria men's basketball team evident with win over USA ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Pre-Olympic exhibition victory in Las Vegas shows "Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball," since the African nation were thrashed by the U.S. at the London 2012 Olympics

By James Pratt
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Kevin Durant had never been beaten in 39 games wearing USA basketball team colours.

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nigeria brought that record to an stunning end, with a 90-87 victory that showed how competitive the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Games could be, and said a lot about the progress of the African nation.

The pre-Olympic exhibition game win marks a huge turnaround for the Nigerians, who were beaten by a record score of 156-73 by an American team including KD at the London 2012 Olympics.

From record defeat to stunning win for Nigeria

The nine years since that record points total in the 2012 Olympics has seen steady growth in Nigerian basketball.

Ahead of the Rio 2016 Games, the U.S. won an exhibition meeting of the two teams by 44 points.

Following this 2021 result, a first win for the Africans, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo was clear: "Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball."

Coach Mike Brown and young players key to recent Nigeria basketball progress

Nigeria coach Mike Brown is one key reason behind their recent success and win over the USA in Vegas.

He combines the role with being the Associate Head Coach at the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, having been named coach of the year in 2009.

It ensures he has close contact with the many Nigerian players plying their trade in the North American leagues.

Gabe Nnamdi, who plays for the Miami Heat under the name Gabe Vincent, led the team with 21 points in Vegas.

Precious Achiuwa, Caleb Agada, Ike Nwamu, and Ike Iroegbu were other players to shine in the exhibition game.

Win shows Nigeria serious about Tokyo Olympic aims in 2021

They may be ranked 22nd in the world, but Nigeria Coach Mike Brown was clear when he told Olympics.com that his team was going to the Olympics in 2021, "to try and win"

Coming just two weeks before the start of the Tokyo 2020 Games, this win over the top ranked USA, who have won the past 3 Olympic gold medals, is a sign that he was serious about that aim.

Brown told Olympics.com that the rallying cry for his Nigeria team is based on words from the great African leader Nelson Mandela: “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence.”