Aminu, Nigerian team made history this summer
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

In the bottom-line, results-oriented world of professional sports, it’s generally considered an insult to suggest that a team or player should just be happy to participate in an event. However, in the case of the Nigeria men’s basketball team and its qualification for the 2012 Olympics in London, there should be no hurt feelings when people say it accomplished something historic simply by earning an invitation.

Nigeria had never previously been part of the 12-team field at the Summer Games, but after a memorable qualifying run, secured a spot in mid-July. New Orleans Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu was one of the team’s heroes, scoring 14 points in an 88-73 victory over the Dominican Republic (Nigeria was also sparked by former Hornets forward Ike Diogu, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds vs. the Dominican team).

Aminu and Nigeria opened the pool-play round of the 2012 Olympics in excellent fashion, posting a 60-56 victory over Tunisia. The two-year NBA veteran scored 10 points, including a free throw with 11 seconds remaining that helped hold off Tunisia and preserve the victory. Unfortunately for the 21-year-old and his teammates – including his older brother, 25-year-old Alade Aminu – the win over Tunisia was Nigeria’s final triumph at the Olympics. After one-sided defeats to Lithuania, the United States and Argentina, the Nigerian team was eliminated from medal-round contention. In its fifth and final game, Nigeria dropped a hard-fought 79-73 contest to France. Prior to Team USA’s Aug. 2 win over Nigeria, American head coach Mike Krzyzewski assessed: “Nigeria is very athletic and they have a lot of American players. In Al-Farouq Aminu they have a player that can get a double-double who is a NBA player.”

Aminu opened the Olympics with a 10-point, nine-rebound showing in the win against Tunisia, but struggled offensively the remainder of the fortnight in London. The 6-foot-9, 215-pounder averaged 7.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists over the handful of games. With opponents focused on trying to stop one of Nigeria’s two players with significant NBA experience, he went 11-for-47 overall from the field. His defensive contributions included a total of 10 steals and three blocked shots.