ABUJA (2016 FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament) - Four years ago Nigeria stunned the basketball world by grabbing one of the three Olympic Qualifying Tournament spots for the London Olympics, now their women’s team looks to repeat the feat in the 2016 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT).
The 12-team tournament will run from 13 to 19 June in Nantes, France, and Nigeria - the lowest ranked team (42nd) in the WOQT - will open their Group Phase campaign taking on Belarus and Korea in Group C.
Back in October, at AfroBasket Women 2015 held in Yaounde, Nigeria were really close to battle for the only spot on offer for African teams for the Olympics.
But they were left heartbroken after suffering a 71-70 defeat in the semifinals against hosts Cameroon, who lost in the final to eventual African champions Senegal.
Nigeria bounced back, outplaying Angola in the third-place game, which ensured their place in the WOQT.
Now, it’s all about regrouping and head to the battle.
"This an opportunity to coach the team at high-level competition and see how far we can go. It’ll be difficult for us, but not impossible to compete for the five spots." - Scott Nnaji
Two-time African champions Nigeria last played in the Olympics in the 2004. And Nnaji, who served as assistant coach to Sam Vincent, feels world stage competition requires a lot more than talent.
That’s the reason he is already doing the team’s homework.
"Our preparation plan is already underway, and we are communicating with the players. Our draft programme should be concluded by May".
At the Athens Olympics Nigeria claim one win - against Korea - in six games.
"Both Korea and Belarus are good teams who play good basketball, but we will make sure to be ready for the challenge. We are going to need to play aggressive basketball to minimise the international experience of our opponents.”
In the wake of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF)'s stakeholders summit held last week in Abuja, Tijjani Umar - NBBF president - said: "Efforts are already underway to upgrade the WOQT team in terms of player personnel and any other areas where weaknesses were identified including funding."
Nnaji has now green light to get ready for the WOQT.
"I am looking to make some adjustments in the team. The idea is to blend 5 or 6 younger players with the most experienced ones in order to make us stronger. We have received invitations to play friendly games against Latvia and Turkey, just ahead of the WOQT, and I am sure those games will help the team’s preparation. We might not be able to select players who are not playing club basketball overseas because we have some home-based youth eager for an opportunity to represent our country.”