Gabe Vincent Leads Nigeria Past Team USA

The NBA knows him as Gabe Vincent, an undrafted former G-Leaguer who has played fewer than one thousand total minutes over the past two seasons with the Miami HEAT.

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, as Team Nigeria upset the USA Men’s Basketball Team, some of the league’s best players were introduced to Nnamdi. It’s the name Vincent didn’t think to use until he visited Nigeria and was asked, pointedly and repeatedly, what is your name.

“That’s very much part of my culture. When I put on that jersey, that’s the name I put on my back because that’s how people recognize me,” Vincent said.

It’s the name Vincent wore as he scored 21 points against the likes of Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal. It’s the name he wore as he clinched the win with a pair of free throws in the final seconds of what is likely – we won’t claim expertise here but it certainly seems to be the case – one of the greatest sporting victories in the history of not only Nigeria, but the African continent.

“It’s almost like an alter ego of sorts. I almost become a different person.”

The results were different, which we’ll get to in a moment, but the player was the same one HEAT fans will recognize. You don’t carve a spot for yourself in the league the way Vincent has, earning a two-way contract with the Miami HEAT two years after he went undrafted out of UC Santa Barbara, without being a grinder. Even when his shot wasn’t falling, Vincent often made his way onto Erik Spoelstra’s court through sheer force of will on the defensive end and his steady composure on the other. He wasn’t even a shoo in to make the Nigerian team when he joined them in 2019. He had to earn his way to that roster spot, too.

That the shots didn’t fall during the regular season was strange enough. Vincent’s mechanics are steady, compact and consistent, so it was always a bit of a head scratcher that he shot just 31 percent from deep across 50 appearances. In no way did he look like a 31 percent shooter, nor did any of his past history imply that that’s what he was.

When Vincent hit six of his eight threes against Team USA, nothing looked different. The ball just went it, maybe more like it should have all along.

“I can’t say we came into this game expecting to shoot extremely well from three . . . but we did,” Vincent said.

In classic slash modern upset fashion, the entire Nigerian team shot 20-of-42 from deep – holding off run after run with shot after shot – as Team USA only attempted 24 threes of their own. To put that number in perspective, before the 2010 season an NBA team had only hit 20 threes in a playoff game once. One time. Uno.

The great equalizer did plenty of equalizing.

“The three-point game was the difference tonight,” USA coach Gregg Popovich said.

It wasn’t the whole story, though, which Popovich agreed with, saying it would be a mistake to ‘let [Team USA] off the hook’ by writing the evenings events off as just a hot shooting night. The rest of the world has been catching up on the talent front for decades. Nigeria, with a roster full of past, present and future NBA players, is only the latest team to do so.

“Every year teams are better and better,” Popovich said. “Every year one two or three more NBA players are on their teams.”

Joining Vincent in the Nigerian starting five were HEAT teammates KZ Okpala and Precious Achiuwa. Okpala went scoreless on just four shots but just a day after Nigeria head coach Mike Brown said he thought Okpala had future Defensive Player of the Year potential, Brown backed his own words up asking Okpala to pick up Lillard full court.

And later on it was Okpala marking Kevin Durant with Team USA down three in the closing moments.

Also on the Durant front, Achiuwa had the highlight of the night doing this to the former MVP at the rim.

Achiuwa attempted two threes, something he rarely did in his first season in Miami, and made one, while pulling down a clutch rebound in the final minute.

We’ll track the progress of all three HEAT players as the summer continues, as well as the performance of Bam Adebayo, who started at center for Team USA. Those are all stories for another day. For now, for today, this is about history, and the role that the name Nnamdi played in it. It may have just been an exhibition game on paper. The ultimate goal, as Vincent noted postgame, may be to medal. But you try telling anyone that this game didn’t matter.

“I don’t think any African team has been able to beat USA Basketball in an exhibition game or a real game,” Brown said. “To try to get a little bit of momentum, not just for our group, but for Nigeria, for the continent of Africa because we feel like we represent more than just Nigeria, and really for black people all around the world.

“To get that win and show that we can, was a big moment for us.”

Team USA will likely be fine. They’ve got the talent, and they’ll get better as they play together. But there’s something special happening with Nigeria Basketball, the D’Tigers as they’re known, both for the name on the front of the jersey, and the names on the back.