Nigeria is bound to get yet another long-term star in USA’s National Basketball Association (NBA) spotlight, following the emergence and sparkling form of Timothy Ighoefe.
Ighoefe is already attracting keen interest as an intimidating defender at 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds.
However, the youngster admits he must improve if his decision to play basketball instead of soccer is going to pay off and take him to the NBA.
The 18-year-old Ighoefe has committed to play for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown University next season, only three years after switching to basketball in his hometown of Lagos.
Ighoefe said at the unveiling of a new training facility at NBA’s academy in Senegal: ”I need to work on my speed, running down the floor baseline to baseline. My left hand, I need to improve, to finish with my left hand.”
In other words, there’s potential but it’s a work in progress – just like Africa itself for the NBA.
”It’s a continent with over a billion people, with a fast-growing economy, fast-growing young urban population.
“That’s a good recipe for the NBA long term,” said NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, also in Senegal for the training facility opening.
The NBA has big plans for Africa. An office was established eight years ago in South Africa.
There is an annual exhibition game featuring star players, and the NBA’s top brass says Africa is ready for more.
Tatum said they’re creating a pan-African league that will involve existing professional clubs, and that NBA pre-season and regular-season games will be held on the continent ”in the next couple of years.”
Another step is the new training center, built on the campus of a soccer academy in a coastal resort town 45 miles south of the Senegalese capital Dakar.
Saly, a former Portuguese trading post, is now a getaway spot for Dakar’s upper class and is home to many French people.
The two parquet courts were imported from the United States. Simply being indoors and with air conditioning probably makes it the best basketball facility in Senegal.
A fabric, tent-like covering is stitched together over steel trusses, and repurposed shipping containers facing the courts are used for weight training.
The academy is one of seven around the world, with three of them in China.
It features full time schooling and training. It can accommodate 24 boys selected from English- and French-speaking African countries.
The NBA holds camps for elite African girls, but there’s no center for them yet.
”All you have to do here is just focus on basketball and school. You don’t have to be worried about anything else. In Lagos, it’s different. There are a lot of distractions,” Ighoefe concluded.