Nigeria men's basketball team are poised to extend their perfect record in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers when they tip off their second round of qualifying this weekend.
D'Tigers are scheduled to play Group F rivals Ivory Coast, Central Africa Republic, and Senegal this weekend, starting from Friday at the National Stadium in Lagos, Nigeria.
The Nigerians are on a six-game winning streak in the qualifiers, have tallied 12 points, and hold a one-point advantage over nearest challengers Senegal, as both continental heavyweights battle for the group's supremacy.
Despite not having the luxury of fielding a full-strength team in the earlier round, the Alex Nwora-coached side were totally dominant, beating Uganda, Rwanda and Mali over two-legs played in Bamako and Lagos.
This week, a nearly full-strength D'Tigers, excluding late arrival Ike Diogu, signified their readiness ahead of the upcoming qualifiers with an 89-77 win over Rwanda in a friendly played in Lagos on Wednesday.
Nigeria should feel fairly confident of a good showing, with the return of a few standout players, notably the Aminu brothers, Al-Farouq and Alade, Stanley Okoye, Ikenna Iroegbu, Ikechukwu Nwamu, and Ekene Ibekwe.
The aforementioned players missed out on national team assignment in the first round due to club commitments, but their inclusion in a talented team, captained by the experienced Diogu, could propel Nigeria closer to a third FIBA Basketball World Cup appearance, in China next August.
Fielding questions from reporters after a team workout session, Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu expressed his delight at being back in the team for the first time since the 2015 AfroBasket title-winning run.
"It feels amazing to be back with D'Tigers. We putting together a really good team and I am sure of a good tournament for Nigeria," the Nigerian-American said.
"Personally, I'm not under any kind of pressure playing in front of the Lagos fans. From my past experiences with a few of them cheering us in Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Venezuela, I have an idea of the atmosphere and it feels like it will all be the same starting from Friday.
"We going to put our best efforts and get the necessary results."
Known foes Senegal pose the biggest threat to Nigeria's dominance and the nations will square up on the final day, Sunday.
The two teams crossed paths at the semifinal stage of the last two editions of the Afro Basketball, Nigeria winning 88-79 in overtime en route to its first continental title in 2015, before repeating the outcome two years later with a five-point triumph, 76-71.
While Nigerian fans understandably could be looking forward to the exciting clash against the Senegalese, Okoye, who last featured at the 2016 Olympics, stressed the need to take it one game at a time.
"It's not going to be easy regardless of playing at home, because there is a target on our back," the forward stated.
"Senegal, Ivory Coast and Central Africa Republic are all great teams, but we need to focus on our first game against Ivory Coast.
"As long as we do our thing, work on our game plan, put our defence and play to our strength, we will be very successful at this tournament."
Nigeria's two previous appearances at the FIBA World Cup came in Greece (1998) and Japan (2006).
Ike Diogu, Al-Farouq Aminu, Alade Aminu, Bryant Mbamalu, Ben Uzoh, Ikenna Iroegbu, Ikechukwu Nwamu, Stanley Okoye, Ekene Ibekwe, Christopher Obekpa, Emenago Obinna, Akindele Ayodeji