D’Tigress point guard, Ezinne Kalu who put up an incredible performance to make this Olympic dream a reality shared her excitement about the development EXCLUSIVELY with #YourSportsMemo www.aclsports.com.
Nigeria’s women basketball team, D’Tigress booked a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Saturday after an unbelievable qualifying campaign in which the entire team and coaching crew pushed themselves to a whole new level.
“When we all found out that we qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games we were super excited and overwhelmed with emotions. This was something that we had worked so hard for and everything was finally falling into place,” Kalu said on D’Tigress Olympic qualification.
It’s been exactly 16 years since D’Tigress last made it to the Olympics and with their male counterparts, D’Tigers also having booked their ticket at the world cup in China, “This is extremely huge! Not just for Nigerian basketball and we the players, but for Africa as a whole,” Ezinne Kalu says.
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“We are going to the Olympics to represent a nation of people who have always been forced to keep quiet, stay in the shadows and not show the excellence and talents we possess. So many Africans are breaking barriers throughout all sports. With the women and men basketball teams both qualifying, this gives us an opportunity to really showcase what Nigeria has to offer to the world.”
Apart from clinching the highly coveted Olympic ticket, D’Tigress did make a statement at the qualifying tournament in Serbia against the hosts and the world champions who were rattled and almost lost to Nigeria in the final game of the qualifiers but eventually had to dig really deep and earn their title as world champions against a very determined and stubborn Nigerian team.
Speaking on the plan before of the game against the champions Kalu said: “The game plan against USA was to give 1,000% and leave everything we had out on the floor. Be aggressive with them, make them uncomfortable, play our game, set the tone, but most importantly HAVE FUN!!!
“Although prior to the game we had already qualified for the Olympic games, this game was important for us to show what we could do against a team of that calibre. We were so close to beating the number 1 team in the world. Does that mean we (Nigeria) could be number 1?
“I mean anything is possible, but playing against them the way we did showed that we don’t back down and we are up for the challenge. In order to be the best you have to play against the best and do well. Losing by over 20 points at the world cup, then losing by only 5 points in the Olympic qualifying tournament proves that we are getting better. But we still have a lot of work to do and we are all willing to put the time and effort into it,” the D’Tigress point guard said.
In retrospect, Ezinne Kalu however, feels that “towards the end, the USA just had that extra gas in the tank. They trailed behind us the entire game and the last few minutes they just went into overdrive.
“Knocked down the necessary shots and made the right plays in crunch time. I think we could have been a little more patient with the ball towards the end to solidify the lead but when excitement kicks in and certain calls are made it’s not much you can do but still try to push. But things like that happen. It’s the game.”
On being selected as one of the all-star five “honestly, I didn’t expect it at all,” Kalu said. “I had no idea they would be choosing an all-star five but I was super humbled and grateful to be chosen. I think my performance through the tournament spoke volumes and I could not have been able to perform so well without the help of my teammates and the coaching staff.
“The amount of support and motivation they give me on and off the court is just amazing. Huge congrats to the other ladies as well. I think we all represented our countries with poise and professionalism.”
Looking forward to the Olympic Games, a competition none of the ladies (except Aisha Mohammed Balarabe) has participated in, what should Nigerians look forward to especially with Coach Otis Hughley talking about “possibilities” with this team?
“You should expect to see a team that is a little more prepared, polished, and ready for battle. Expect to see a team who will give 110% on proving why we belong there competing on the biggest stage in the world.
“Team Nigeria (D’Tigress) is capable of anything we set our minds and hearts on. Our drive and our passion for the game is so unmatched. Our energy is contagious. I think if we just stay on that path we could accomplish anything.
Finally, to fellow Nigerians back home who have been buzzing “I want to say a big thank you for the support that you all have given us. Every tweet, post, text message and article; we see it and we appreciate it so much!!! Please keep standing by us, having our backs and motivating us. We will do our very best to make you all proud.”