Sacramento Kings' Chimezie Metu will lead a largely NBA-free Nigeria team at the FIBA World Cup qualifiers from July 1, while Alan Major will take over for head coach Mike Brown, who is on leave after the Golden State Warriors' Championship win.
Metu is one of 12 players named by the NBBF for the games in Rwanda, just days after the Nigerian government did an about turn, announcing the country's return to international basketball following a six-week withdrawal.
The 25-year-old power forward is the only NBA player on the roster, and one of only four US-based players. The other three are NBA G-League players Ikenna Ndugba of the Greensboro Swarm, Michael Gbinijie of the Santa Cruz Warriors, and free agent Uchenna Iroegbu who last played in the G-League with the College Park SkyHawks.
The team will be coached by Major, who is assistant coach to head coach Brown. Despite speculation to the contrary in light of Nigeria's recent hoops troubles, NBBF President Musa Kida told ESPN that Major was merely standing in for Brown, who was recently appointed head coach of Sacramento Kings.
"Nothing has changed, Mike Brown is still our coach," Kida said. "Alan Major was one of his assistants and is taking charge of these qualifiers because Brown has just come off the NBA Finals [with the Warriors] and needs to time off to recuperate before going to start his new job."
Major will return to familiar territory in Rwanda, where he coached Patriots Basketball Club during their run in the inaugural edition of the Basketball Africa League. He is also not entirely unfamiliar with the Nigeria team, having assisted Brown at the 2021 AfroBasket.
But he will have a hard time with the quality of personnel at his disposal. Sources told ESPN that Nigeria were unable to call on many of their top players, especially from the NBA, who had been left disillusioned by the events of the past few weeks and decided to opt out of making themselves available for selection.
Officials also told ESPN that even if some of the NBA players were available, it would have been a logistical struggle to make insurance and other travel arrangements that the players contract mandate.
Long-time captain Ike Diogu recently told ESPN that he was not available for selection, in light of the NBBF's disfunction, and would instead be spending the offseason playing in the Big3 competition, for Snoop Dogg's team.
Four players, Ben Emologu (Rouen Metropolitan, France), Christian Mekowolu (Casademont Zaragoza, Spain), TK Edogi (Kolin, Czech Republic) and Emmanuel Omogbo (H.Izrael, Israel) were picked from European clubs.
From the domestic league, Nigerian champions Rivers Hoopers contributed two players, Michael Oriakhi and Victor Koko, while Gombe Bulls and Customs Abuja weighed in with one each, Michael Okiki and Ice Agu respectively.
Nigeria, Africa's number one ranked team, open their campaign against Cape Verde on July 1 at the BK Arena in Kigali, before taking on Mali a day after. They play their last game of the window against Uganda on July 3.
After the first round of qualifiers, Nigeria lead group A with five points from three games.
During this second window, 16 teams will compete in the second leg of matches earlier decided in November 2021 and March 2022. The top three teams from each group will advance to the second round where each team will play six games.
The two top teams in each group, along with the best third-placed team, will qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023. The World Cup also serves as qualifiers for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.
Nigeria were in danger of being handed a five-year ban from FIBA if the men's team had defaulted on the qualifiers.