LONDON – Moments after a 47-point beating of Tunisia Tuesday night, Tyson Chandler was asked if he had seen anyone on the opposing team capable of joining him one day in the NBA.
Ever the diplomat, Chandler didn’t take that bait.
“Well, I honestly wasn’t focused on that,” he said. “My focus was on winning the game and that’s really all I was thinking about.”
That’s fair. Tunisia is the only team in the Olympic field that doesn’t boast at least one player with NBA experience. Nigeria, the team that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team tussles with later today (5:15 p.m. ET) will provide a different test than that young Tunisia team did.
Nigeria has several American-born players with NBA ties on their roster, including Hornets swingman Al-Farouq Aminu, the No. 8 pick in the 2010 Draft, and former NBA players Ike Diogu and Olumide Oyedeji. Aminu’s older brothe, Alade, is a former Georgia Tech star.
Nigeria might be the most surprising team here, considering the road it had to travel to get to the Olympics.
The Nigerians pulled off a couple of stunners in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament, including upset wins over Lithuania and Greece, as well as a 25-point, 10-rebound performance by Diogu in a win over Hawks All-Star center Al Horford and the Dominican Republic that clinched Nigeria’s first ticket to the Olympics.
The Nigerians didn’t waste any time making themselves comfortable, knocking off African champion Tunisia in their opener before coming back to earth Tuesday in an ugly 72-53 loss to Lithuania.
But that setback won’t have any impact when they hit the court tonight.
“It’s a new game and another chance for us to try and prove ourselves on this stage,” said Diogu, the former No. 9 pick of the 2005 Draft who has 225 games of NBA experience. “Beating Tunisia showed everybody that we belong here. It was a historic day for Nigeria and the basketball program … We will not be intimidated by those guys. A lot of us went to school in the U.S. and have played against those guys. We have no reason to feel overwhelmed.””
While it should be a bit more of a test for the U.S., any dreams of anything more should be tempered by one quick look at the rosters.
“We already know we’re getting everybody else’s best shot,” LeBron James said. “That’s the way it always goes and probably always will. And that’s fine. We have to worry about us and what we do. We take care of that business and we’ll be fine.”
Whether or not James and the rest of the U.S. Team’s first unit will do the bulk of the heavy lifting against Nigeria remains to be seen. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski played around with his lineup last time out, starting the second five in the second half against Tunisia, before giving his team a day off on Wednesday, most likely their last of this competition.
The American players keep saying all of the right things and stressing that they respect all opponents, only to destroy the competition by an average of 37 points in their first two games. They’re making it look easy.
“It’s not easy to us,” James said. “The final score may look that way, but we go out and we work hard, we work our habits and we try to get better.”
Tonight should be another opportunity for the U.S. to do exactly that.