Nigeria became one of the first teams to qualify for next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, but according to Al-Farouq Aminu, who has been instrumental to the D’Tigers’ recent run of success, they are still chasing perfection.
With three games left to play in the African Qualifiers – in the sixth and final window, in February 2019 – coach Alex Nwora-tutored men have put together a commanding 9-0 record and come next summer return to FIBA’s flagship competition for the first time since 2006.
And, the best way for Nigeria to reach their full potential in time for China 2019 is by completing the World Cup Qualifiers with the same winning mindset, Aminu reveals to FIBA.basketball.
“It’s not because we already have our spot for China 2019 that we have to give up competing for the rest of the Qualifiers,” he reasons.
In February, Nigeria will face Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic (CAF) and Senegal. Unfortunately for these three teams, Aminu and Co have a mission to fulfill.
“We’re going to keep working and try to reach our full potential in order to have a great run in China next year but to also keep building for the future of the national team,” he explains. “Those games are very important. Why not trying to win the last three left? It’s important to stay in the same dynamic.”
Although the 28-year-old is now focused on his NBA season with the Portland Trail Blazers, he took time to reflect on the importance of playing for his ancestral country.
— sportlineng Nigeria (@SportlineNG) September 19, 2018
Aminu, who, prior to his triumphant national team return last month, had last sported the Nigerian jersey in 2015, is looking forward to featuring at the China 2019 showpiece.
“We can’t wait to compete again on the world stage and compete against the best teams in the world. And we are all looking forward to it. There is still plenty of time before the start of the competition but we have that in mind and we can’t wait for it to be next summer,” says the 6ft 9in(2.05m) forward, who averaged 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals a game in Nigeria’s three wins during the September Qualifiers played on home soil in Lagos.
Aminu has never hidden his passion for playing for Nigeria either.
“It’s so great, I really love it,” he insists. “The fans (in Lagos) were very loud and very supportive and we had to win to show them that we are very competitive and thank them for their support.
“We really felt a lot of love from our fellow compatriots. It’s easy to tell they’re here for us no matter what. I’m very proud of being Nigerian and to be playing for the national team so it feels very good to go back home to compete and share wins with the fans.
I. Diogu makes the three point jump 💪🏿 for D'tigers🇳🇬 🏀🔥 in front the ever lively crowd at the National stadium in Surulere Lagos
— Kwesé Free Sports NG (@kfsnigeria) September 16, 2018
“(Playing for Nigeria) It’s one of the most important things in my career, that’s for sure,” he goes on. “I’m proud to play for Nigeria and I love the feeling of wearing the national team jersey and representing the country.
“When I do something, I try to do it the best way and I’m 100 percent invested in the national team and on helping basketball grow in Nigeria, but also on the entire African continent.
“It’s good to know that you’re followed and seen as an example, an inspiration by the youth and I’m trying my best to show them that everything is possible.”
With so many Nigerians playing in top leagues around the world, Aminu – who featured for Nigeria at the London Olympics 2012 – acknowledged that this wealth of talent might come in handy in China.
“We have plenty of guys in Europe, in colleges and some of them who are in the NBA are from a Nigerian background, so maybe one day some more of them will join the national team,” he says. “We have the potential to do very well in the present and future and we’re going to do everything to have the best team we can build.”
Asked what he expects from China 2019, Aminu replies: “I’m sure it’s going to be a unique tournament as China is a country that really loves basketball and we will feel the love from the fans during the entire competition.
“Our goal will be to have a great run and try to achieve the best one ever for an African team at a FIBA Basketball World Cup.”
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