If you were looking for a Cinderella story for this year's Olympic games, look no further than the last team to qualify for London.
First, Nigeria gave Russia a scare in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament semifinal and then upset the Dominican Republic on their way to the country's first Olympic games. Normally those circumstances lend themselves to an early exit in part because a team is just "happy to be there." However, the Nigerians tell FIBA.com they're going in to London looking to start something big for years to come.
"The group we have this year is not like any group we’ve ever had. When we assembled the first thing coach said was ‘let’s make history’,” Forward Ike Diogu said. “(But) not just a one year thing, we want to have sustainable success and that’s what we’re working towards.”
We're not talking about Hickory High School here, the Nigerians feature Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu and journeyman Ike Diogu but these aren't two guys aren't the start of a team that screams Olympic medal. On top of that there are only three players who returned from the last year's African Championship bronze medal team. What this team does is play defense at a frantic pace and hustle non-stop.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, they're in Group A, which means they're matched up with Team USA, Argentina, France, Lithuania and Tunisia. The top four teams of those six advance out of pool play. Group B is a little easier as Spain and Brazil are the only two locks to get out of pool play. In group A, the U.S., Argentina, France and Lithuania seem like the odds on favorite to get out of pool play, but who says Nigeria couldn't party crash? They only finished one place behind Lithuania in the qualifying tournament and while they seemed to turn the corner during last year's European Championship, France is always a good candidate to get upset by a lesser opponent.
I'm not expecting them to run the "Picket Fence" but you're best bet for an underdog to root for, at least for a little while, is Nigeria. Sure there's Manu, Scola and the rest of Argentina's last ride and yes, there's Spain's attempt to finally get over the hump and beat the U.S., but you know those teams.
Keep an eye out for Nigeria. They could send a couple of teams home early and we'll all have a lot of fun watching them along the way.
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