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Ugochi Nicole Nwaigwe is one of the players that
won the Afrobasket for Women in Mali three
months ago and qualifying automatically for the
World Cup in Spain in June. The post players,
who is currently representing First Bank
Basketball Club at the FIBA African Champions
Cup for Women in Angola told
Adeyinka Adedipe that the D’Tigress would
spring a surprise in Spain.
The desire of every athlete, either in the amateur
or professional rank, is to win accolade and
become renowned. However, to achieve fame,
the athlete needs to work hard and be ready for
any challenge at all times. And this is what
D’Tigress’ Ugochi Nicole Nwaigwe has decided to
do in order achieve her desire of playing for the
national team at the World Cup next year in
Spain.
The Nigerian-American, who is currently
representing First Bank Basketball Club at the
FIBA
Africa Champions Cup for Women (ACCW) in
Angola, stated that the Nigerian team has the
potential to shock the world despite the fact that
it would go into the championship as an
underdog.
According to her, playing for her country of origin
is an honour she would forever relish. “I feel
honoured to have played for Nigeria. Playing in
the team that won the Afrobasket in Mali for the
first time in 12 years is an accomplishment I will
forever relish. Winning the championship meant a
lot to me and my family. It was amazing and the
members of the team still keep in touch to
discuss what we need to do to play well at the
World Cup.”
She is proud of herself for the achievement, but
she wouldn’t have made the team if she didn’t
have a change of heart to battle for a spot at
the training camps that took place in the US and
Nigeria. “At first when I got the call I didn’t take
it too seriously, having been dropped from the
team that played the Brazil 2016 Olympic
qualifiers in France.
“But when I got to the training camp, I talked to
myself, changed my mindset and decided that I
will fight for a place in the team. I didn’t let the
challenge shake me, I worked really hard and I
earned a place in the team, which was one of
the exciting days in my life,” Nwaigwe added.
She continued: “After I missed the Olympic
qualifier, I promised myself that it will not
happen again. I played in Spain last year so I
prepared for the Afrobasket 10 times more than
playing professionally. Nothing in the world
compares to playing for Nigeria and I was proud
to be part of a team that had players that I grew
up with.”
She is aware of the fact that playing at the
world stage is a different ball game considering
the top teams that would be at the event. She
is, however, adamant that the D’Tigress can
prosper in Spain if they have the same mentality
that they took to Mali, while also assuring that
she will again fight harder than the last time to
make the team.
“Now I have to work harder to be in the team to
Spain. There will be stiff competition for spaces
considering that more qualified players will be
invited to camp ahead of the World Cup. I will
have to be in Cyprus to play for the Yakin Dogu
University team in the second division, where I
hope to keep myself in shape for the World
Championship.
“We are all excited by our success in Mali. We
did something magical and we love the reaction
we got form the government, the Nigeria
Basketball Federation (NBBF), our families,
Nigerians and even FIBA, who also think we can
go to Spain and shock the world. We have
players who play in some good clubs around the
world and all we need to do is to go to Spain
with right mentality.
With our achievement, national team coaches
and players will be afraid of us. We have it all,”
she added.
For Nwaigwe, the ACCW hasn’t gone according
to plan as she has struggled for form, a
development, which gives her sleepless night.
However, she is keen to redeem herself before
the competition ends tomorrow. She linked her
current travail to her fear of failure.
“I am afraid of failure. When I make mistakes it
hangs on me like a dark cloud and it is difficult
for me to get over it. I made a couple of mistake
in our first game against Equity Bank of Kenya
and I am yet to recover from them, though I
thank the coaches for showing understanding
and still giving me the chance to have some
minutes under my belt.
“The problem has been with me since I was 12
years old and I have been told by my former
coach to get help. I am a straight A student, but
basketball seems the most difficult thing for me
to do. However, my passion for the game has
kept me going and I will surely come through the
present problem and help my team do well,”
Nwaigwe added.
While admitting that she is a quiet person who
looks inward to solve her problem, she is not
averse to having a psychologist on sport teams.
“I think it will be nice to have psychologist
who could help athletes solve their respective
problems. My team mates have helped me a
couple of times, but having to work with a
psychologist will help a great deal.”
Despite having to play in Europe, Nwaigwe is
optimistic that she would one day have the
opportunity to play in the WNBA. “The WNBA is
definitely the best league in the world and I will
like to play in one of the team. But the problem
is you need to attend one of the big name
schools in America to be able to get a chance.
“A player also needs the right connection to get
into the WNBA training camp, while players from
abroad must have incredible statistic to get a
chance to play in the league. I hope with time I
will get the opportunity to play in the league,”
Nwaigwe added.
For Nigerian players who nurse the ambition of
playing at the World Cup, Nwaigwe has this
advice for them – ‘work hard, go to Spain and
shock the world’.

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