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Interview opinion

Playing At San Antonio Spurs Was A Dream Come True –Ex-D’Tigers Captain Julius Nwosu

Julius Nwosu, former national men’s basketball team- D’Tigers’ Captain and Ex-San Antonio Spurs player before his sojourn across the European League. In this exclusive interview with Phillips Tayo opens up on wide range of issues regarding Nigerian basketball. The 44-year-old former national player who now based in Texas, United States reflects on his humble beginning in the game, as well as the current state of Nigerian basketball; including the national team, D’Tigers ahead of their second consecutive Olympics appearance in Rio de Janeiro next year.

Excerpts:

Julius Nwosu With D'Tigers Players, Umen And Akindele

. Julius Nwosu With D’Tigers Players, Umeh And Akindele

Kindly introduce yourself?
My name is Julius Nwosu. I’m a retired professional basketballer from Imo state, born into a family of seven children-(six boys and one girl).

Give us an insight into your illustrious career profile and honours won while playing for Nigeria?

My humble beginning in Basketball was my contact with the game while I was in secondary school. Then, school sports was very buoyant and hundreds of great talents were picked out of the many local and state competitions’ for secondary schools across the country.I was one of such athletes which I guessed it should the Schools’ sport festival in Bendel State in 1987.I recollected winning my first medal at the games which was a bronze medal.

Let me state that sports runs in my family as I have brothers who are also amazing athletes especially the favorite family sport-Volleyball. In the beginning, I was keen on playing Football thus I loved going to watch the Nigeria League games especially in the days of Rangers FC of Enugu, BBC Lions of Makurdi, New Nigeria Bank and IICC(Shooting Stars) whenever they’re coming to Benin.

Later, my sport master jokingly told me that my height was too much and said I should join the
Basketball team.The transition was not easy but I learnt fast atleast that at age of 15/16 yrs, I was on the state basketball team heading for my first National Sports Festival. The Old Bendel State basketball squad was such a good team but we were beaten by the strong states in the course of the festival.

Thereafter, the highlight of a latter pro-basketball career was during my participation in the Rivers State Sports festival, Coach Alabi Adelanwa, who was then the U-17 National team handler saw and invited me to the national camp. After I came back from the camp, a missionary from a USA School offered me a full-academic Scholarship.
What’s your opinion on the standard of basketball in terms of officiating, quality of players, welfare packages and the likes during your playing days in Nigeria?

I didn’t play much of my amateur career here in Nigeria basically because I wasn’t eloquent to speak much, yet I knew whenever I’m around for holiday I do watch our league games or sometimes through the YouTube. Nigeria referees are still fair and precise in their gauge of basketball officiating because I have seen worst officiating in the course of my professional-basketball career. Yet, it’s imperative to state that there is always room for improvements. Firstly, organizing regular clinics for the referees is crucial for assessment and new exposure because the rules of the games are very dynamic and flexible.
However, I have understood that every league has a way of demystifying their refereeing system to make it a little bit different from other leagues. The question will be if a Nigeria player moves abroad, definitely he/she is at the whims and caprice of personal prejudices in the professional calls which might seems strange to such player. The Official FIBA Statues are generalized but no league can boast of good officiating as either players or coaches are going to complain or praise according to the tide of the impact on them. Sometimes, refs act like Jack, the master of all.

Marketing the Nigeria basketball League is another big issue, the administrators are yet to come around the bend to make it attractive and money-spinning for the stakeholders.
By now, Nigeria basketball should be at par with the European level at least if the NBA structure seems like a tall dream. Regretfully, it’s not so because we lack leadership and vision thus, our league is perishing over the years. A country that has produce Hakeem Olajuwon, Myself and a host of others international stars.
The smallest state in Nigeria has more money than Dominican Republic yet a basketball club over there signed me paying N30,000 for two months to come and play. We are better than Angola in all levels of national life yet the least-paid basketball player earns at least N300, 000 naira per season. I can be quote on the salary figure

It is disappointing and worrisome that over the years, Nigeria basketball is still in this comatose and oblique state even with the culture of suppressing and blackmailing dissident voices and people viewed as anti-hegemony. People of goodwill idea are being frustrated and maligned thus I don’t see any light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Vis-à-vis Welfare stake, my personal nasty experience was when I was still a state player representing at various tournaments, Sports Council directors do slashed and embezzle our allowances. This does left out the team secretary and the coaches thus we ‘ill be given ridiculous cash whereas the state government have released huge cash donation for the state contingent.I could recollect that I was once paid N15.000naira and the highest was N35.00naira .Even during my D’Tigers days, I was paid N300.00naira as the highest travelling allowance. No camp allowances for us then. You can wonder how the Nigeria clubsides are being run at home at that period since I was based abroad as a result of the US scholarship. Right now, no need to guess or reflect. As at 2015, none of the premier league clubs can boast of a functional website not to talk of the two national teams, D’Tigers and D’ Tigress. That’s bad!
You made one landmark feat by being drafted into NBA franchise, San Antonio Spurs in the late 80s.What’s your experience like?

(Chuckles) That remains one of the fondest memories of my life that can never be erase from my life. Nothing can be compare to the day; also nothing can replace the memory. A day that a boy from Nigeria was chosen out of many youngsters during an open camp, not just by any NBA Club but San Antonio Spurs. The experience remains poetic and nostalgia. Playing in the NBA is like being on a super first class ticket on the plane. Everything is given to you- people worship you, give you things for free. It’s a dream that comes true right before your eyes. The experience is everything you can imagine or think of.
Also, you played for couple of European Clubs, could you mention the clubs with titles won. Also, how would you assess the technical standard of the two leagues-NBA and the Euro League?

Having seen what the NBA system was, and having enhanced my game to some extent, I decided to seek for greener pastures outside the shore of Nigeria in other to be capable of the strong competition for places in the SAS team roaster then. There were a lot of senior and experienced players on the roaster. From US, I joined CSKA Moscow Russia in the Euro League, in the course of my contract; the squad played in the European final four play-offs. Also, I won personal accolades-best player in Europe, best defender, top rebounder with the team being crowned the Russian Champion and Russian-Cup winners respectively.
In Greece, I won the Greek Cup while in Romania, I won the League title. Later, I moved to France, my club came second in the French Basketball Cup and emerged the league champion. I have a brief stint in the Asian league switching to Japan clinching the Japanese League title and the Japan Cup. The medals haul are numerous to mention as I won in Philippines- Commissioners ‘Cup, Venezuela-League Title, Lebanon-double Hariri Cup Champions, Dubai-Classic Champion, 5 Championship titles from Dominican Rep. D2 Chinese Championship titles with Southeast Asian medal. Lastly, Syrian Cup medal. For the sake of Guinness Book of Record, I can boast of more titles and medals across the continents of the world than any basketball player including Michael Jordan.
As a former D’Tigers captain, you led the national team to a couple of international compepitions. Give us a load-down of such competitions with the high and low moments?

You mean D’Tigers! Talking about that will always leave sour taste in my mouth. I was invited to the national team, emerged the team’s captain. The tales of what transpired during our D’Tigers era will win me a Noble Prize for Literature if I write a memoir on it. However, the high-point will be leading the national squad to two World Cup Finals in Greece and Japan respectively. It is always patriotism that helps veterans players of then including my generation to be committed and determined to make our Country proud in any international competitions’. The experience of playing for my country is awesome- the good and the bad memories, one can take positives from it. Personally, I believe the satisfaction outclasses the negativity.
After your playing career, you had a brief coaching stint with the national team-D’Tigers as one of the assistant coaches.What went wrong then that makes the fortunes of the team worsen?

That is one of the negativities which Nigeria administrators play-out as their politics margin. At a point in time, I was the only foreign-based player in the National team with vast experience and tactical dexterity of both NBA and Euro Leagues. That puts me in a good stead of coaching as I began to undergo pro- coaching badges ahead of my retirement. Isa Umar who was the team’s coordinator at the time told me that he will groom me to coach the national team as one of most respected players which was the culture in developed leagues. Before that time, I had become player-coach while in Iran. Later, I assisted two NBA Coaches and one College coach, Robert Mcculum against the hopes that one day, I will coach my beloved Tigers and that chance never came. About what makes the fortunes of the national team then nosedive, we won’t be able to finish this interview at once if I open up on the dirty politics and lopsided administrative logjam in the past boards of the federation.
By virtue of your experience with the NBA draft system.Why are the African rookies not making it to the top in their pro-careers?

The reason is very simple and straightforward. NBA is the front-runner of the game worldwide thus the traditions and standard goes past ages. For any Africa rookie to succeed, the support system back home , saying for example, Nigeria must be complementary and adroit since the early years and the adolescent to be in contact and groom the youngsters before their supposedly drafting. Also, U-12, U-15 and U-17 grassroots’ league structure must be evolved because that is how the America or Euro youngsters are been primed. Look, there are neither advantage nor disadvantage criteria nor considerations. Just be good and you will be groomed to be stars.

Recently, D’Tigers won the coveted FIBA Afrobasket Trophy after 35 years of wait. As a former captain, what is your overview of the fact that a foreigner, Will Voigt won it for us against the backdrop of our local coaches’ capabilities?
First of all, let me congratulate the entire squad tutored by Will Voigt for the meteoric feat of lifting the 2015 FIBA Africa AfroBasket Trophy in Tunisia. The second question of what’s my overview that a foreigner won the Cup rather than our local coaches. The question is what were the administrative politics and the level of support given to such people especially to the likes of Sam Vincent, John Lucas and Ayo Bakare? It will be full of debasing tendencies. I could talk because I was once an assistant coach in the National team at a time. That is serious issue Nigerians should clamour for or reflect upon rather than believing that a foreigner basketball coach is the solution.
Perhaps what could arise in the future is weighing down the chances of other young Nigerian coaches because there’s this lack of respect culture for Nigerian coaches whether based home or abroad. We still have a lot of young guys like me who are interested in coaching and have load of experience, we should give them opportunity to do so. Fellow African neighbours like Angola, Senegal and Tunisia are employing their local coaches. Most of them are my ex-teammates or opponents. In Nigerian football, the Super Eagles is another closer example.

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What’s your advice to the Nigeria Basketball Federation {NBBF} ahead of the second Olympics appearances In Rio de Janeiro later in the year?

NBBF is such an unpredictable body.I won’t be surprised to hear that Will Voigt walks away due to contractual issues because the funding machinery is very obsolete and stagnant. Sam Vincent and John despite their patriotism saw hell in the hands of the NBBF over unpaid salaries and allowances. At a point in time, the duo were funding their travelling expenses with their personal monies, yet the administrators seem unruffled. People might say the current leadership were not the ones in power then. Let me not add my own case of injustice.

Look, it is a clear pattern that our past national basketball teams-D’Tigers and D’Tigress’ coaches must be owned huge percentage of their contract package since the 70s. The painful part of it is that another Nigerian will come forward and applied for the job. Even, I learnt that the local coaches doesn’t ask for contract papers anymore. Atleast, they will travel for international compepitions. It should not be so. My only prayer is that Will Voigt stays then we can ruffle the storm at Rio de Janeiro.Let not forget that Olympic Basketball is different from FIBA Africa Afrobasket Championship.

Lastly, how’s life after basketball, I mean since your retirement? Also, do you have any dreams of coaching D’Tigers in the nearest future?

Due to my Christian background, I give glory to Almighty God. As the Bible says in everything we should give thanks to Him. Presently, I’m a manager in a big US Oil and Gas Company as a Health and Safety Evaluation Executive. Also, I’m a B.Sc degree holder. As regards my Coaching dreams, I’m not ‘gonna’ lose sleep over it anymore because God’s time is the best.

Thanks for speaking to SRSport.com Julius Nwosu?
It’s always my pleasure.

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