Nigeria coach Mike Brown relishing prospect of facing boss Steve Kerr's USA at Olympics

ByColin Udoh ESPN logo
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Nigeria's basketball teams are relishing the prospect of pitting their respective mettles against the benchmark Team[s] USA at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.

With the rescheduled 2020 Games now just five months away, the draws for the basketball event -- albeit incomplete for the men -- have got Nigeria's basketball fraternity even more confident of accomplishing big things in Japan.

Nigeria's women are ranked 14 and find themselves in a deadly group that includes the top- ranked USA, number 5-ranked France, and Japan at number 10.

The men will face off against number 3-ranked Australia, though they await the last two teams from the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Croatia and Belgrade.

Men's coach Mike Brown, an American who is also the associate coach at the NBA's Golden State Warriors, is excited at the prospect of what would be a dream meeting with Team USA, arguably the team to beat at the tournament despite their recent struggles at the FIBA World Cup.

"If we're playing Team USA, that means we're doing pretty good on our Olympic run and so just in general, I'm excited for the opportunity," he told ESPN.

Before that though, Brown is already in the thick of things as the trash talking has started in the Warriors building, where his boss Steve Kerr is on the staff of Team USA, and superstar guard Steph Curry is also likely to be on the roster.

Brown said: "There's little banter going back and forth. You know, Steve comes at me a little bit, every once in a while, and I'll shoot it back at him.

"So, there's a little bit of trash talking, but it's all fun and games until the ball goes up, and then it's going to be nothing but business."

To get in front of the USA, however, Brown and his team will first need to navigate their way past group play, where Ben Simmons' Australia are poised to be a major check on those ambitions. The Nigeria coach is not losing sight of that.

"The anticipation to get out of the pool play is extremely high," he admitted. "But I'm sure it is the same for the rest of the teams in our pool too.

"So, we have to make sure we understand that we can't skip any steps on this journey and that first step when we get to the Olympics is preparing to play everybody within our pool.

"And, at the end of the day, hopefully, we're able to get to a point to where we're going to play them [Team USA] because they're not in our pool. And if that happens, it means we're doing pretty good at that point in the Olympics."

Brown is intensely conscious of the dangers posed by the teams they would need to battle through to get that far, even the ones yet to qualify.

He added: "The competition is going to be fierce. Team Australia, they're ranked third in the world right now and so they're not going to be any pushover.

"And I'm sure the teams that still need to qualify for the Olympics are going to be good in their own right. And the thing that they're going to have that's advantageous over us is, they're already going to be practicing for the pre-qualifying tournament that they got to participate in.

"They're going to play games during the pre-qualifying tournament, so they're going to be seasoned and ready to go, come Olympic time, they're going to be in some sort of a groove when it comes time to play games in the Olympics and they're going to be really good."

Meanwhile, Mfon Udoka, who led the women's team to the 2004 Olympic Games, says D'Tigress will rattle more than a few cages.

"I do think we can rattle some teams up in there," she told ESPN. "And I think that because of the way Nigeria played USA recently, no one is going to take Nigeria lightly, they'll be ready and prepared for us.

"But I also know we'll be ready too."

Their last meeting against the USA ended in a slim 76-71 points margin in favor of the world number one, and the Nigerian team led for the better part of the game.

Still, it was a marked improvement from their previous showing, when they were blown out 71-40 at the quarter finals of the 2018 World Cup.

Udoka added: "If they hadn't played the USA like they did recently, I would say there might be a little cause of concern, but [Nigeria] challenged them, they were ahead for the majority of the game. So what is there not to be confident about now?"

That sort of confidence is what Brown is passing on to his players, as he targets a medal from the Games.

He said: "We're not happy just being a part of the Olympics. Walking out from the opening ceremonies is going to be enjoyable, it's going to be exhilarating. I'm going to have goose bumps and the whole nine yards, I'm going to have my phone probably walking around filming stuff.

"But that's not why we're going to the Olympics. We're going to the Olympics to win and to try to get a podium finish. That's our goal. And in order for us to do that, we got to be really sharp on both ends of the floor on a daily basis no matter who we play.

"There's going to be some good teams that are in front of us. Now is just a good time to go get it done as tomorrow."

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