LAGOS (FIBA AfroBasket 2017) - Angola ruled African basketball for two decades, running roughshod over virtually every team that challenged them. Now a team with enough firepower and experience is positioned to challenge them for the moniker as the best team on the continent.
That team is Nigeria, the side that qualified for the last two Olympics and also beat Angola in the AfroBasket 2015 championship game.
Even in 1983 and 1985, respectively, Angola finished runners-up at the AfroBasket while in 1987, they came in third. Since 2009, the Angolans have finished second at the AfroBaskets in 2011 and 2015 and first in 2013. They have had a sustained period of success.
Angola may not be the all-conquering force they once were, yet they have not gone into hiding, either. What has happened in Africa is the rise of Nigeria. D'Tigers, after clinching their spot in the London Games via the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Venezuela, clinched a spot in Brazil outright by winning the African title in Tunisia.
And at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where they won against Croatia and lost close games to Lithuania and Spain, Nigeria played hard and showed plenty of skill and savvy. There is something that is still missing, though.
A better support network for the national team, the coach and players will tell you, is still needed. Al Farouq Aminu, the team's NBA forward, withdrew from the squad because of issues related to his insurance.
Nigeria were also still lacking in experience, perhaps, when they arrived in Brazil. There was also bad fortune. The team lost a pivotal figure in the team, big man Shane Lawal, in the very first Olympic game against Argentina, to injury.
There was a collective sense by all of the Nigerian players that they could have done more in Rio and maybe should have. Nevertheless, consecutive appearances at the Summer Games in invaluable in terms of experience. Nigeria should be able to benefit.
"I personally don't have any regrets," said Nigeria's Chamberlain Oguchi, the AfroBasket 2015 MVP, to FIBA.com about his team's 2016 Olympics. "I played my heart out for my country as well as the men beside me, and for that I hold no regrets."
"If you just look at what we've done the last two years, the talent level and the continuity that we're trying to build, we feel we're a top 10 team in the world," Lawal said to FIBA.com. "We wholeheartedly believe that, no matter what anybody else thinks about us, technical wise and all of this other crap."
Lawal thinks that Nigeria were not that far off from having very different results at the Olympics.
"I really feel like 4-1 was not out of the picture for us," he said. "What those guys did with what we had, you can be nothing but proud. It hurts because we can be better."
Nigeria will be among the favorites from Africa to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and also the Olympics in 2020.
Before that, however, the team coached by Will Voigt will attempt to do something for the first time. They will try to win a second straight AfroBasket. Their title in 2015 was the first for the men's team.
Next year's AfroBasket will be staged in Congo, tipping off on the 18th of August and finishing on the 30th.