Nigerian origins ran deep at the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday with teams selecting six players either from the country or with a parent from there in the first round.
In fact, the selections of Precious Achiuwa (20th overall by Miami) and Udoka Azubuike (27th overall by Utah) marked the first time two players from Nigeria were selected in the first round of the same NBA Draft.
“First, I want to thank God,” Achiuwa said on a Zoom call just after his selection. “I want to thank God for putting me in this type of position where I’m playing for a great organization and able to represent not just myself, but where I’m from, my whole country behind me, my whole city. And to play for an organization like the Heat is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to be able to get out there and compete with the rest of my teammates.”
A Precious moment indeed pic.twitter.com/21CjU9725H
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) November 19, 2020
In Miami, Achiuwa will join another player of Nigerian descent in Bam Adebayo, who became a first-time NBA All-Star last season with a breakout campaign in which he averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in helping Miami earn a trip to The Finals.
Prior to the Draft on Wednesday, the NBA featured nearly 20 players of Nigerian heritage on NBA rosters (more than 30 if we’re counting former players), most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo (as well as his brothers Thanasis and Kostas), Adebayo, Deandre Ayton, and Victor Oladipo.
In the leadup to the Draft, the NBA noted that seven players in the current class have ties to Nigeria in Azubike and Achiuwa, who are from the country, as well as five more prospects with at least one parent from Nigeria in Isaac Okoro (fifth overall by Cleveland), Onyeka Okongwu (sixth overall by Atlanta), Zene Nnaji (22nd overall by Denver), Daniel Oturu (33rd overall by the New York Knicks, and reportedly traded to the L.A. Clippers) and Jordan Nwora (45th overall to Milwaukee). The league left out Desmond Bane (30th overall by Boston), whose father Etieno Ekiko hails from Nigeria.
So, it’s clear the country has come a long way since 1984 when the Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon, born in Lagos, Nigeria, with the No. 1 overall pick. In fact, 10 years passed before the league took a chance on another player of Nigerian descent (Yinka Dare, 14th overall to the New Jersey Nets).
Okoro became the first player of Nigerian origin on Wednesday to have his name called among the 2020 draft class, which broke the previous record (five) for the most players from Africa selected in one NBA Draft.
“It feels great to be the first Nigerian in this Draft to be drafted,” Okoro said. “It’s also just a blessing. My mom (Gloria Okoro) always tells me to keep that Nigerian pride. Even though I wasn’t born in Nigeria, I’ve still got Nigerian blood.”
* * *