Former DTigers coach, Ayo Bakare, last week resigned as Technical Director of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF). The man, who led Nigerias men national team to their first ever Olympic Games appearance, shared his views on the countrys basketball.
Is it true that a rift between you and the NBBF made you resign as Technical Director of the federation?
Beside God and my family, Nigerian basketball takes precedence over my personal business. I am passionate about it and I cannot allow anything that will disturb Nigerian basketball to happen. Its a house I have contributed in building for over 25 years and I will definitely not be part of its damage. If you hear from me that there is no rancour, then you can be assured that there is none. If you hear from another source that there is fighting, that I am dissatisfied, that I am being owed, disregard it. My salary is very cheap; I have never earned a salary with the NBBF. It is an amicable situation. Anybody can tell you they know the cause of my leaving. Irresponsible communication is the bane of our basketball. Its my personal commitments that do not allow me to continue in this position. Lets just admit that its not a job I am equipped to do at this time.
Was it an easy decision for you to make?
Would it be easy divorcing a wife after 25 years or more of marriage? That’s how it is.
Have you recommended anybody to take over from you as Technical Adviser?
I am not a politician, so I have not been schooled well in the art of being a godfather. I don’t have any candidate at this moment.
Would you come back to the federation again if you are called upon to do so?
I have served for 25 years and I am willing to serve 25 more years in different roles. I have passed through several presidents of the NBBF. I have been a board member, I have been a team owner, I have been a coach, I have served and I will continue to serve. The role may be different; I may no longer be able to play a role of the Technical Director or coach, I may not be available to even watch games but you don’t have a lifetime passion and just let it go away because of an incident. No incident is strong enough to kill such a passion. So, nothing is wrong. My mind would definitely wander to my passion; it may be by building a stadium or encouraging people to invest in the game. I may analyse games as well; the list of things I could do for basketball is endless. I have always been very willing to progress with basketball.
Is it true that you resigned as Technical Director because you want to return again as national team coach?
The issue of national team coach has never been in question and I think that has been adequately answered by the federation. Even the guidelines of the National Sports Commission allow me to be Technical Director and coach of the national team. The guidelines prefer that the Technical Director coaches the national team. I don’t have to leave the position of Technical Director, so that I can come back as national coach. Coaching Nigeria for several years was voluntary. I have never requested, applied, canvassed for or tried to lobby in any other way to coach any team in Nigeria.
What would be the fate of your club, Comets?
Right now, I am enjoying what they call terminal leave in the ministry. I am not worrying my head about what I will do next. I don’t want to evade your question but for the first time in so many years, the weight of what happens in Nigerian basketball has been lifted off my shoulders. I don’t have to worry about what happens next. Its a relief. I was never president of the federation but its a huge burden I have carried for a very long time. That has been lifted and right now I am just focused on enjoying my family; I will be shuttling between Miami and San Antonio with my son to watch NBA games. That will enrich my own knowledge of the game and make me a better analyst of basketball. Whether I will own or coach Comets again or invest in a club, I have not thought about that right now. But I will always be a basketball stakeholder.
How do you think your exit would affect the game in Nigeria?
My exit will mean absolutely no decline for Nigerian basketball. Nigerian basketball has moved to a certain level where my exit or any other persons can no longer pull us back. We’ve gone beyond that stage. I don’t have the title of Technical Adviser but if you need my support, I will always be ready. I am still here, just that I no longer play an active role as Technical Director.
What were the challenges you faced in over 25 years of service to basketball in Nigeria?
Let me talk about the things we were able to achieve; everything I have done has not been singular. Sometimes I appear in front but we shouldn’t be under any illusion that any milestone was single-handedly achieved. If it was winning titles, it had to do with whoever was in the federation at that time and the players. We were able to go to the Olympics for the first time (London 2012) and that drew attention to us as a world superpower in basketball. We were able to go to the World Championships for the first time in 1998; we also qualified the female team for the Olympics. We were able to move from not winning medals in Africa to being potential gold medalists during continental tournaments. We have moved forward to be ranked number 17, now 18 in the world. No other sport in Nigeria is ranked anywhere close worldwide to this. We have made giant strides wherever possible but there have been challenges. Most of them hinge around finance, perception surrounding the sport, and the amount of money available for the programmes. Ideas have not been the problem; finance has been the biggest singular challenge we’ve had. We have also had turbulence in the federation practically for the last 16 years. That turbulence has come around all the time about our being polarised at every election. It has been a recurring decimal in basketball more than any other sport. Unfortunately, basketball is made up of intellectual people. Yes, that is the unfortunate curse on basketball. Where you have people that are intellectual, knowledge is sometimes dangerous. That is why some wealthy people make sure others don’t get knowledge because once they do, you don’t have the hold on them anymore. Basketballs curse is that we are all very knowledgeable and intellectual. What we failed to realise in the last 16 years was that we scared away sponsors and investors; we presented ourselves as a divided house, we did things that would ultimately satisfy our personal egos and positions but we didn’t do anything to further the cause of basketball.
How can we solve this intellectual problem?
I owe a bigger responsibility to keep basketball intact. I understand that telling you my grievances, if there were any, would give me satisfaction but it will tear down the house of basketball. I want to urge that you (media) help us to build the house of basketball. Every one of us in this game would fade away; the people who were there when I started are no longer there. Some have passed on, some are alive but totally disinterested and of no relevance to the game anymore. But some of the effect of what they did is enduring till this day. The media has contributed a lot in tearing down that house. It has been a very big problem in the last 16 years. Anything negative that you report about basketball does not hurt Tijjani Umar (NBBF president) personally, does not hurt me personally, does not hurt Sam Amedu personally or the other principal actors. But it damages the sport.
We’ve had Zenith Bank and DStv as sponsors since Buba Gyang was president. Have they added any more sponsors?
No. Its not the fault of the federation per se but the terrain has been very difficult to navigate. The obvious division in our ranks has been difficult for any serious sponsor to overcome. That is why we are stuck with those two. Not that the federation is not making any serious efforts but internally we are at war nearly all the time in the last 16 years. No one wants to sheathe their swords. And we are always the losers. The media should stop fueling that; they should listen to both sides of every conflict. As a private sector person I have spoken to a lot of people including banks MD’s but they don’t want to touch basketball because of what comes back from it. Believe me; we’ve made basketball look like a pariah, like a leper to corporate sponsors, who have no interest in sports.
What is your opinion about the men’s league?
Our entire premier league is N50m strong; its ridiculous. That is peanuts. The most marketable item we have is worth just N50m. Each club in that league needs that N50m to meet international standard. Each team needs between N50m to N100m to be able to run effectively; to be able to bring in foreign players. Basketball is too volatile and nobody wants their corporate image involved in something like that. The media can change things with positive reporting. Of course, we too need to talk to ourselves about the need to be less mischievous. The MD of a bank, we played basketball together but he has not put down one Nair for basketball. What is the reason? What he reads and watches on TV scares him away from the game.
After over 25 years involvement in various capacities of Nigerian basketball, when would you say was your best and worst moments especially as a coach?
There were too many special moments to single out a particular one as best. Of course there were ups and downs but its difficult to narrow 25 years of service to one event. I don’t dwell on bad moments; I learn from them and move on.
After leading Nigeria’s men team to a historic first ever appearance at the Olympics in 2012, you suffered a record defeat to the US. How did you feel while on the lines?
Were you happy? I felt like every Nigerian. US beat us by a record margin, so what should Lithuania do? They were number four in the world but they were beaten by an ordinary African country (Nigeria) at the Olympics qualifiers? Should they commit suicide? What about Greece? That’s the game for you.