Hakeem Olajuwon heads list of 5 greatest Nigerian basketball players

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2012 and 2015 will remain indelible in the memory of basketball fans in Nigeria as those years represent the biggest success stories for the country's national team, D'Tigers.

2012 was the year the team qualified to represent the continent at the Olympics for the first time, while 2015 was the year they won their first ever Afrobasket title, defeating favourites Angola and Senegal on the way to the title.

However, the seeds for those triumphs were sown way back in the 60s and 70s when giants-among-men started the revolution of the game ...

Chagu played as a point /shooting guard for Kagoro Cyclones, Abuja Potters, Benue Plateau Peaks and Benue Braves in the Nigeria Amateur Basketball League between 1964 and 1973.

His greatness primarily lies in the fact that he almost single-handedly changed the way Nigerian ballers shoot. Before the Chagu revolution, everybody in the Nigeria League launched their shots from the chest; Chagu was the first Nigerian to shoot from above his head, something unheard of in the early 60s.

This product of Government Secondary School Abuja and a member of the victorious North team, national champions in 1969, he made his international debut for in April 1968 vs Benin Republic (then Dahomey) in Port Novo. He was the first player in Nigeria to display the flair usually associated with Americans with his flashy ball handling - he was a renowned for his ability to push the ball up the floor, his no-look passes and his penetration.

Chagu was an absolute joy to watch because of the entertainment value and the skill he displayed on court. His skill-set also meant that he won many over to basketball in a nation predominantly occupied with soccer.

In those days when players could only dribble with one hand, Chagu effectively dribbled with both hands. His movements were fluid and a delight to watch.

Alongside the great Joe Okhaku and the likes of Ganiyu Otenigbagbe, Habibu Obandaki and Alabi Adelanwa, Chagu had his final game for Nigeria at the 2nd All Africa Games in Lagos, Nigeria in 1973. He later coached First Bank, and the Ladies team were champions many times over under him.

Garba was an enlisted officer in the Nigerian Army and could well be credited with the title of "Father of Nigeria Basketball" because of the roles he played in developing the game both as a player and as an administrator.

He played as a shooting guard for The Scorpions, the Nigerian Army basketball team, from around 1964 until he became an administrator in 1970, which forced him to retire from the national team.

He led the Scorpions, the Lagos State and National Championship between 1966 and 1970, during which time he also served on the Central Board of AFABA 9 (now FIBA Africa).

Although there was no three-point line during Garba's playing days, shooting from range was his forte. He could launch his shot from anywhere after the halfway line, and almost always scored. He was also a known motivator who routinely willed his team to win when things got tough.

Garba revolutionised Nigeria basketball when he became the President of the Nigeria Amateur Basketball Association (NABBA) in 1970. In 1971, he invited American stars Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Nigeria, further enhancing the popularity of the game. He also turned Dodan Barracks, the then seat of Military power, into a basketball mecca of sorts: anyone who hadn't played at Dodan Barracks was considered 'incomplete' as a baller at the time.

Under Garba's leadership, foreign coaches like Oliver B Johnson, Bunny Robinson, Radisic and Lala Vladislav were brought to work in the country and this had a great impact on the technical aspect of Nigerian basketball.

He was listed as Nigeria's best player in the book "Basketball in Africa", written by Salvatore Verdarame, when he was the star of the Nigerian team which took part in its first international tournament in Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea) in 1965.

Unlike Chagu and Garba, who were back-court geniuses, Adelanwa - or 'Alanbolo' as he was more popularly known - ruled the paint with his silky skills as Nigeria's first modern-day 'big man'.

Adelanwa started his career in 1966 with the Nigeria Air Force, with his revolution coming with the way he changed the game after playing against the then Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) in 1971. At 6 foot 6, he was the tallest player in the national team and Nigeria's main centre until 1974.

He was Nigeria's first big man to play with his back to the basket, and became a disciple of the 'hook shot' after that game against Abdul Jabbar in Lagos. Adelanwa flipped Nigerian basketball on its head by also incorporating playing the game backing the basket. Before then the well-known big men of that era played facing the basket; Adelanwa changed the game after watching a tape of the Boston Celtic great Bill Russell, a moniker also that stuck with him the rest of his career.

Adelanwa made the game look easy, and his courtesy on the court - he always played with a smile on his face - made him a model opponent and a role model for the sport.

He was an international referee of high repute, and retired to his home Ogun state, where he is still nurturing youths in the game of basketball.

Sangodeyi entered the Nigerian Basketball scene after the likes of Adelanwa, Habibu Obandaki and Tunde Pannox, and 'Yomi Basket' remains the country's first and best centre of the modern era. He was also Nigeria's first full-time professional basketball player.

The 'Hook shot', 'jump hook', 'slamming the ball', offensive and defensive rebounding, block shots, you name it ... Sangodeyi had it all. Every team he played for in Nigeria emerged winners, including the renowned Ogun Rocks which he led for many years.

The story of Hakeem Olajuwon, without doubt Nigeria's biggest ever basketball star, will not be complete without a recital of the impact Sangodeyi had on his career - a shy and unassuming young Olajuwon learnt his ropes as the protégé of Yomi Basket at Ogun Rocks. It's not a surprise therefore that almost all the moves Hakeem is famous for - the drop step, the dream shake and the spin move, were all tailored after the style of his mentor.

Sangodeyi played NCAA ball at Sam Houston State University, Texas, and was taken in the third round of the 1984 NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets. He is presently in retirement in Brazil.

Hakeem Olajuwon is without doubt the most successful basketball player to come out of Africa.

'The Dream' actually stumbled into basketball. He started his career in sports first as a goalkeeper and then as a handball player, but was drafted into the basketball team on account of his height by Ganiyu Otenigbagbe to play in the National Sports Festival.

He was drafted into the junior national team where he was seen by an American scout, who recommended him to coach Guy Lewis of the University of Houston. His career took off from there.

The Houston Cougars, as the College team was called, made three trips to the NCAA Final Four with Olajuwon, but lost two consecutive Finals in 1983 and 1984. Still, Olajuwon was named the 1983 NCAA Tournament Player of the Year, even though he played for the losing team. He is, to date, the last player from a losing side to be granted this honour.

Houston Rockets made him the Number 1 overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, and he led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. In 2008, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 2016 he was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame.

Olajuwon, apart from the two NBA Championships, was named NBA Finals MVP twice, (1994, 1995); MVP of the League in the Regular Season once (1994); Defensive Player of Year (1993, 1994); six time All-NBA First Team (1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1997); five time All-Defensive First Team (1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994); and he played in the NBA All-Stars team 12 times.