Image Credit: onlineNigeria
The NBA Draft 2020 Presented by State Farm® was held virtually on Wednesday from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut and reached fans in 215 countries and territories in 29 languages. 13 international players from 10 countries were selected: seven in the first round and six in the second round, but the continent of Africa was rewarded with a watershed moment.
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Precious Achiuwa was selected 20th overall by the Miami Heat and Udoka Azubuike was selected 27th overall by the Utah Jazz, marking the first time that two players from Nigeria were selected in the first round of the same NBA Draft.
Achiuwa and Azubuike are among the eight draftees from or with at least one parent from Nigeria, including Isaac Okoro (5th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers), Onyeka Okongwu (6th overall by the Atlanta Hawks), Zeke Nnaji (22nd overall by the Denver Nuggets), Desmond Bane (30th overall by the Boston Celtics), Daniel Oturu (33rd overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves) and Jordan Nwora (45th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks).
Isaac Okoro: “It feels great to be the first Nigerian in this draft to be drafted. It’s also just a blessing. Like you said, my mom always tells me to keep that Nigerian pride. Even though I wasn’t born in Nigeria, I still got Nigerian blood. So it’s just having that on my shoulders.”
Precious Achiuwa: “First I want to thank God. I want to thank God for putting me in this type of position where I’m playing for a great organization and able to represent not just myself but where I’m from, my whole country behind me, my whole city. And to play for an organization like the Heat is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to be able to get out there and compete with the rest of my teammates.”
Udoka Azubuike: “For me, I’ve just been working hard and keeping my head down. Not listening to the people talking about projections. A lot of people had me in the second round, but I wasn’t concerned about that. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can bring to a team. I know whatever team drafted me, I’m going to have to go there and have to prove myself and work hard.”
These young men are examples of the impact that NBA Africa and the league’s focus on international development and fellowship has had on Nigerian players, dating back to the rise of legend Hakeem Olajuwon, drafted No. 1 overall in 1984 by the Houston Rockets over future legends such as Michael Jordan (ever heard of him?) and Charles Barkley.
Nigeria has been a priority of the NBA’s international outreach programs dating to the first Basketball Without Borders (BWB) in 2003. The NBA doubled up on its commitment to strengthening the relationship between the NBA and Africa in 2019 when it named NBA Vice President and Managing Director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall as President of its ambitious Basketball Africa League (BAL).
BAL is a professional league featuring 12 club teams from across Africa. It was supposed to launch in March of 2020 but postponed its 2020 season because of COVID-19.
Surely a temporary setback.
There are currently 19 players of Nigerian origin on NBA rosters, including the three Antetokounmpo brothers, Bam Adebayo, Victor Oladipo and Andre Iguodala, the oldest Nigerian in the league, who was selected ninth overall in the 2004 draft.
There are more than 90 current and former NBA players from Africa or with direct family ties to the continent, including 13 African-born players on 2019-20 opening-night rosters.
The African influence in general, in the NBA, has risen to impactful heights with blood from the mother continent running through the NBA’s rosters and executive offices. They are the current champions, leaders, and future stars.