By Ijeoma Okigbo
Some basketball stakeholders have harped on grassroots development of the sport in the country, saying that identifying and developing talents at the grassroots cannot be overemphasised.
Some of the stakeholders spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the unveiling of the Abuja Metro High School Basketball League organised on Friday by Mo Basketball Foundation at the Mo Arena in Abuja.
The stakeholders called for concerted efforts to actualise the country’s “catch them young” sports policy.
Ex-international and National basketball player, Samuel Oguche, said investing in grassroots sports programme was the right step in the direction for the future of Nigeria’s basketball.
“I feel great about this programme. Whatever has to do with youth development, you can count me in.
“It’s a very good initiative because these kids will learn how to play basketball at a very young age.
“So, for the founder to come up with such an iniative and to see the number of children from various schools that came out here to participate is quite commendable,” he said.
Oguche pointed out that investment in youths and sports development was key in curbing crimes and other vices.
He added that investment in youths was necessary because they were the future of the country.
“There is nothing that brings youths together and keep them away from social vices like sports and entertainment.
“The more we are able to organise such programmes, the less crime there will be in the country.
“A lot of these kids are going to have a safe space to be in to train and develop their talents,” he said.
Also, basketball enthusiast and founder, Mo Basketball Foundation, Mohammed Shehu, said the ultimate goal of the proposed Abuja Metro High School Basketball League was to provide the young boys and girls a veritable platform to aspire for a career in basketball without any hindrance to their academic pursuit.
“It gives me great pleasure to welcome all the participating schools, students and relevant stakeholders who at a very short notice have responded positively to this noble call.
“The game of basketball and school are intertwined, hence we insist that every child who aspires to engage in the sport must also take his or her education very seriously.
“Also, with the numerous challenges which have stunted the growth of the game in the country, we are still keeping the faith and trying in our own little way to develop the game at the grassroots.
“Basketball plays a crucial role in our lives and your presence here shows that you really love and are interested in playing the game,” he said.
Shehu noted that the Mo Sports foundation, which was established in 2018, embodied his vision of utilising the convening and transformative impact of sports to achieve its objectives.
“One of our objectives is grassroots basketball development and that is what we are missing in Nigeria.
“We want to start developing the game from the youth at grassroots, so that by the time that you get to a certain level you can now be on your own.
“We also want to provide a successful basketball model; one that is non-existent in this country, because we are not following the curriculum.
“So, what we are trying to do now is to correct all those anomalies so that the youth can have a better environment where they can study and at the same time play basketball.
“We also want to align with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with our emphasis on youth development,” he said.
Victor Ochiebi, the Technical Director, Abuja Metro High School Basketball League, said the league was a project of the Mo Sports Foundation to encourage grassroots participation in sports.
“We noticed that there was a big gap in the organisation of basketball at the school level.
“So, we wanted to come up with something different to spice up that level of basketball and to use the game as a convening platform to educate, encourage and motivate our high school adolescents to be the best they can be in life,” he said.
Some students who spoke to NAN said they already had plans to leverage the benefits the league offered.
Trevor Orji, a male participant from African Community School, Asokoro, said the opportunity to play basketball while in school was a dream come true for him.
“This feels like a dream come true for me.
“I started playing football at an early age but later switched to basketball because I had a passion for it.
“My dream is to play professional basketball for Cleveland Cavaliers in U.S. alongside some of the greatest players in the world,” he said.
Daniella Olasanya, a female participant from New World Emerald Private School, Abuja, said playing basketball had so far been a great experience.
“I started playing basketball from J.S. 1 and it has been a great experience.
“I am grateful for the opportunity offered to me by my school to learn and play the game as I have participated and represented my school in various competitions.
“I also thank God for the idea of the school league initiative and thank the organisers for putting this together,” she said.
NAN also reports that no fewer than 100 students in their hundreds across different private schools within the FCT participated in the unveiling of the league expected to dunk off before the end of the term. (NAN) (www.nannews.ng)
Edited by Salif Atojoko