KNIGHTDALE, N.C. (WNCN) – When Nigeria knocked off the United States basketball team — one of its two recent losses during Olympic tune-ups — a former Knightdale Knights star was in the mix and made a big difference for the Nigerians.
“Historically, it’s never been a very competitive game, but we knew from other guys that played before and laid the foundation for us to come in here and be in a position that we are now that it meant a lot to them,” said Nigerian Olympian and Knightdale graduate Stan Okoye. “So, we wanted to show some class and everything like that so we didn’t celebrate too much on the court.”
Some see it as a shock, but anyone paying attention to the Nigerian national team could see it coming. They’ve always had the talent: Hakeem Olajuwon, Jahlil Okafor, and Victor Oladipo just to name a few. Starting with their Olympic birth in 2012, they followed it with a 2015 gold medal Afrobasket run and have steadily improved.
“We have about eight or nine guys who play in the NBA,” Okoye said. “We have a few guys who I think will probably get opportunities this coming season based on how they performed last year overseas and also in these exhibition games, but the talent pool is very large.”
It’s not just the talent. The game on the international level is much different.
“There is no defense or 3-second rule, so you can’t just attack the basket one-on-one and get an open lay-up,” Okoye said. “The 3-point line is a lot closer and the game is more physical, so you have to rely more on moving the ball around playing solid defense and not relying on just the talent.”
Some may not see the obvious, but after beating Team USA, Okoye and his teammates just want to make sure from now on, you put some respect on their name when you say it.
“It’s not just because Team USA was playing bad, but they’re playing against professionals,” Okoye said. “Everybody on these rosters are professionals and we all put the work in.”