All the drama from the Lagos Airport to Douala, first, was somewhat interesting. Was a bit bothered though about why we want to leave for a neighboring Country like Cameroon in the night (11:20PM). After been cleared, we got into the Cam-air Co aircraft and one could conveniently count the heads that were seated. Well, I took advantage of only me being on my row and spread my legs over the two other seats (no yab me ooo). It was going to be a one hour, twenty five minutes flight and because it was very late, I needed to close my eyes at least. We proceeded on the journey and at some point, the air hostesses went round to serve sandwich and juice at past midnight! Couldn’t say no despite me trying to lose some fats especially in my tummy area. It was a smooth ride afterwards till we landed at Douala.
After a long walk to the Airport proper, the officials attending to us were speaking French and I will just simply smile and say “English Please”. Like that, I went past the officials after a thorough check and wanted to use the rest room with my friend who was also pressed, we met a lady-cleaner who directed us and when I was done, I came out to see the lady cleaner this time around, she was smiling and looked at me and my friend and said “find me something please” in English and French. We were surprised but we had to give her a little and we came back, sat down on a chair for the remaining part of the night, 6 hours to be precise… “Whew”.
So it was daybreak and time to get set for Yaoundé, my colleague and I were both miffed at the way the airline treated us but as “sharp guys”, we didn’t let that bother us and off we were to Yaounde. It was just a 30-minute flight, we stayed back a bit at the Airport before we got an official to come pick us but before then, the drama had started, we needed to communicate with the locals and it was all FRENCH… *whew* I should have taken my French classes more seriously back in secondary school, my friend and I had to smile every time we needed to communicate and again add a bit of “choreography” to pass our messages across.
Yaounde was really a city of hills, good roads, friendly folks and the weather was a bit cold but there was no enough time for sight-seeing as we had to proceed to the Stadium almost immediately after breakfast because the 24th edition of FIBA AfroBasketWomen had just begun.
Arriving at the Palais Polyvalent Des Sports De Yaoundé (Yaounde Multipurpose Sports Complex), I was excited at the sight of the Edifice, it’s an indoor sporting facility located in the heart of town with a capacity of 5,263 people. This place was built for basketball by a Chinese construction firm and was and was opened on June 19, 2009.
Away from the history, the ambience was electrifying with fans making their way-in since the hosts were scheduled to play in some few hours. The sound and the lights were intact, DJ treating the spectators to good music and of course there was enough basketball thrills from the female protagonists who were on the court. I had fun in loads when the host nation was in action.
The noise was deafening anytime points were scored and that alone added spice to the game. Also had some interesting teens as cheerleaders to entertain the crowd whenever there was a break. My team wasn’t in action on Day 1 due to the late arrival of Guinea, so we had to wait till the next day to see the D’Tigress in action.
Time check – it was some few minutes to 11pm, packed my things and walked back through the beautifully lit Yaoundé streets to my hotel for about 10 minutes to get a much needed rest.
After the action on Day 1 that saw the D’Tigress resting technically, Nigeria finally began her campaign against Perennial rivals, Angola. It wasn’t really the kind of game we had expected, considering their form on the back of a “good outing” at the All Africa games. It turned out to be a loss and afterwards, while discussing with some of the players over dinner, they knew they had to brace up and be more ruthless against other opponents if they were to keep their Olympics dream alive.
The team went on to pick up four straight wins against Egypt, Guinea, Senegal and Algeria to qualify for the last 8 – scoring a total of 402 points in the 1st round.
Other games proved to be just as exciting and I really did enjoy watching Egypt, Cameroon, Mozambique and Senegal dunk balls in the rim, but at this stage, all the soft-spots I had for these teams would have to remain the same because it’s win or lose and the focus for me was to see the D’Tigress win and head to the Olympics in Rio next year.
The quarter final win over Mozambique was a close tie and watching Ngulela – who later told me exclusively that she was done with her National team – having a go at my team got me clothed with a “Pressure-Coat”.
Later that evening, the “Pressure-Coat’ was removed and we all paid a visit to the Nigerian High Commission in Cameroon to celebrate our 55th Independence Anniversary and the victory over the Mozambicans.
It was really a goodevening and for the first time in 8 days, I came across a “better Nigerian meal” that gave me an indescribable joy just at the sight of it.
The day after the celebration came the big clash between Nigeria and the host nation, Cameroun. It didn’t go as planned but it was a gallant loss, had to control my emotions all through especially after realizing that the automatic ticket to the games next year was out of our hands.
The look on our faces that evening could be best be described as one of those evenings that you are up against the strongest mosquito gang in your hood that has defied insecticides and there was no source of power and that’s when the Late Music Legend, Whitney Houston’s “I look to you” starts to playback on your head.
I couldn’t sleep and all I could see was just the scoreline 70-71 for hours till the ladies had to file out to play the make or mar game against the Angolans who we had earlier lost to in the competition for third place and the chance to qualify for the now all -important “Olympics Qualifying Tournament”.
A brilliant and breath taking 4th quarter display by the girls, defensively and offensively, that finished with 0 points for the Angolans and 20 points for the girls ensured the win that kept our Olympics dream alive.
I am happy that the Men’s team have qualified for Rio 2016 and it will be a great feat if the Women’s team make an appearance too at the games. The NBBF President, Tijani Umar has assured adequate preparations for the team ahead of the qualifying tournament billed for June 2016 and the oneness in the team is also making the girls very positive of picking a ticket out of the available five for the Rio 2016 games.
Another confident being is the legendary damsel that was there physically to support the ladies and was rightly honoured by FIBA during the games. Mfon Udoka was a member of the elite female teams that won Nigeria its first and second AfroBasket titles in 2003 and 2005.
I am also very positive and will keep tabs with the team as well as continue to lend support from here in every way by giving updates from the Coaching crew and the players, including current and prospective members.
The Top 5 players were deservedly honoured and I was really elated to see Adaora Elonu on the podium. Aya Traore also emerged as the tournament’s MVP largely because she raised her game in the knockout stages, which ultimately ensured that the Senegalese women’s national team were crowned Champions .
And to my surprise, the Senegalese coach came to the dining that evening and said to the team – “I am happy that my team won this competition but your team (D’Tigress) are the best side in this tournament…”
With this belief, see you in RIO 2016!
Did I tell you guys about my tournament crush? Hehehe… she’s in the Lionesses’ team.
‘Rotimi Akindele – Instagram: mreds7 ; Twitter: @mreds