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Mike Brown and Nigerian national team find silver lining in delay of Olympics

Nigeria’s new coach discusses impact of coronavirus on Olympics and NBA

For Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown and the Nigeria Basketball Federation, the delay of the 2020 Olympics comes with a silver lining.

Brown, who was named the head coach of the Nigerian men’s basketball team in early February, will now have more time to put together a team, hire a staff, build a schedule and get prepared for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19.

“It helps from the standpoint of there are a lot of teams that have been together … the players, especially. A lot of countries have players who have grown up playing together on national teams or All-Star teams,” Brown told The Undefeated. “There are a lot of coaches out there that are in charge of programs that they have been a part of for many years.

“To have another year to grasp, not only the talent level of the team, but the direction the team needs to go and making sure we are able to put the best Nigerian team out there, it’s a welcomed advantage to have a little bit more time for a new guy like myself.”

Nigeria’s 2019 World Cup roster included current NBA players Al-Farouq Aminu, Chimezie Metu and Josh Okogie; former NBA players Ben Uzoh, Ike Diogu and Ekpe Udoh; G League guard Nnamdi Vincent; and University of Louisville star guard Jordan Nwora.

Brown talked to The Undefeated about how the delay of the Olympic Games affects his preparation as Nigeria’s head coach, his hopes to get Nigerian sports stars involved, and his communication with the Warriors in recent days.

Assistant coach Mike Brown (right) of the Golden State Warriors talks with Stephen Curry (left) during a game against the San Antonio Spurs.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

How did you take the news of the postponement of the Olympic Games?

Obviously, it’s disappointing. This whole thing is unfortunate. Not just from an Olympic standpoint, but it’s unfortunate for all the lives affected in the world. That is why I think it was more than necessary to happen. As you know, sports bring a lot of joy to everybody around the world. The Olympics brings people together, puts smiles on people’s faces. It makes it tough, but it’s best for it to be postponed.

Have you been communicating with your players about the Olympics being delayed?

I just basically told them, ‘Hey, this is where we are with everything now that the Olympics have been postponed.’ Just touching base with everyone about themselves, their families and that they are safe. And to reach out if you have any questions and concerns. But this is where we sit right now, and I will continue to send texts and calls as time goes on.

Aminu, who played for the 2019 World Cup team, had surgery on Jan. 7 to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee. How will the delay of the Olympics impact him?

He is obviously a guy who has been instrumental to this program for many years. He is one of the guys who has anchored the program. He has a lot going on right now to get himself healthy so he can compete with his current team, the Orlando Magic. Knowing him, how much pride he has and things he has helped his country accomplish in basketball, I think he’d want to play in the Olympics, especially the way they qualified. It gives him a lot more time to get healthy and get himself in playing shape. I’m sure he’s looking forward to it.

Al-Farouq Aminu of the Orlando Magic had surgery on Jan. 7 to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee.

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Anything you can say about who has committed to the team?

Right now, that’s an ongoing process. Our general manager, Musa Adamu, who has been a part of the federation for many years, has done a fantastic job of putting things together, keeping me informed and giving me a direction of which way to go to try to formulate a team. I’m kind of following his lead and working with him to put the best group of guys together we can to go into the Olympics.

Obviously, everybody who competed in the World Cup in 2019 will have an opportunity to make the Olympics. As we all know, we are going to continue to try to bring in as good of talent as we can. We are going to bring in the guys that we feel will represent Nigeria best in the next Olympics.

Are you still hoping to make your first trip to Nigeria this year?

Musa Kida, the president of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, was excited about having myself and my coaching staff come out. We were scheduled to be in Lagos May 25 to June 4 to put on a tryout camp for the top 20 Nigerians that play in African leagues. And then we were taking whoever we picked from that group to the next stage of tryouts and progress from there. … We are still hoping to make the trip. It’s just a matter of when it will happen.

While we were out there, I was going to fly to the capital, Abuja. The minister of sport in Nigeria wanted me to spend a day with him during the middle of tryouts. The country and the federation are excited about the progress we’re making and the direction we are taking. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going.

Have any Nigerian celebrities reached out to you?

I’m waiting for my two biggest ones. I’m a big UFC guy. I’m waiting to hear from Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya, who is Nigerian but lives in New Zealand. I’m waiting for them to get on the bandwagon. Of course, it would be really instrumental to have a guy like [former NBA star] Hakeem Olajuwon be a part of this in some way, shape or form down the road. Obviously, there are a lot of big-time Nigerian sports figures that can pass on their lessons to us that would be more than appreciated.

What’s it like to be an African American coaching an African team?

It’s awesome. There is a sense of joy, pride and other emotions that run through you knowing you can help contribute to the game of basketball for a nation. Especially one that has a lot of potential that they haven’t reached yet. Knowing you can be a part of that whole process is more than gratifying for me and my family.

I’m honored, blessed and lucky. I’m looking forward to the whole journey.

How have you stayed connected to the Warriors during the lockdown over the coronavirus?

I have been speaking to [head coach] Steve Kerr. I’ve been speaking to him a long time and he’s the best. We have a huge group chat via text where we communicate basically on a daily basis. Steve’s biggest thing is he wants everybody to make sure they take care of themselves, stay safe, stay healthy, take care of the family and try the best you can to enjoy this downtime knowing as coaches, especially, this can break at any time. Be ready.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.