Wichita State’s Dominic Okon helped coach one of Nigeria’s most important men’s basketball victories earlier this week. Friday, his team can take another step toward qualifying for the nation’s first Olympics.
Nigeria plays Greece today in the quarterfinals of the 12-team Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela. An upset of Lithuania, ranked fifth in the world, gave Nigeria its best chance to play in the Olympics. A win over Greece puts it in the semifinals, after which it could earn a spot in London by finishing in the top three.
Okon, WSU’s director of basketball operations, is an assistant coach for Nigeria, his native country.
“It has been a great experience for me, to have a chance to coach professional players from the different teams,” Okon said in an email. “More importantly, it is an honor to be invited to be part of the coaching staff.”
No matter today’s result, Nigeria, ranked No. 21, made a statement with the win over Lithuania, a consistent medal threat in recent Olympics. Okon said Nigeria had never defeated an opponent ranked that highly.
“That was huge,” he said.
Okon is coaching several players with familiar names. Former George Mason star Tony Skinn, who sank the winning basket in a 2006 game at Wichita State, talks about the atmosphere in Koch Arena that afternoon. Champ Oguchi played at Illinois State. Ike Diogu and Al-Farouq Aminu own NBA experience.
Nigeria lost to Venezuela 71-69 in its opener. Creighton center Gregory Echenique had nine rebounds and three points.
“It is an great atmosphere in the tournament,” Okon said. “Lots of NBA scouts.”