Garba’s career was cut short when the player became an administrator in the game. However his political move made a huge difference on Nigeria’s basketball, and today its acceptable to call the former military man the ‘Father of Nigerian Basketball’, because of the great impact he made.
During his playing days, Garba, as an enlisted officer played for the Nigerian army basketball team from 1964 till he became an administrator in 1970.
The former AFABA 9 (now FIBA) central board member transformed Nigeria’s basketball when he became the president of the Nigeria Amateur Basketball Association (NABBA) in 1970. He exposed home-based basketball players to life in the NBA by inviting American stars Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Nigeria in 1971.
As a player, Garba’s major strengths on the court was shooting from range, though during his days there were no 3-points lines, the player would occasionally take shots after the halfway-line.
He was listed as Nigeria’s best player in Salvatore Verdarame’s book, after he drove the Nigerian team to her first international tournament in Fernando Po (now the island of Bioko in today’s Equatorial Guinea) in 1965.
Chagu is the man who almost on his own changed the way Nigeria’s basketball’s shot.
Home based players were used to taking shots from their chest level, until Chagu came in and shot from above his head. Of course like every other ‘first time’, players mocked this move, but as they saw the precision and recognized the game changer this was, one by one they began adapting Chagu’s technic.
Chagu made his first international appearance for Nigeria vs Benin Republic (then Dahomey) in Port Novo, on April 1968.
The player was the ‘Jay-Jay Okocha’ of basketball in his time, his display of great skill in dribbling with both hands (which was almost impossible for many others at the time) was what drew the spotlight to him.
Chagu’s play thrilled fans to watch and its recorded that his play won quite a lot more fans to the game in a soccer-dominated Nigeria.
Adelanwa started his career in 1966 with the Nigeria Air-force, and towering over every other player in the national at 6 foot 6, he was Nigeria’s main center until 1974.
Speak of a player that was desperate to learn more on the pitch, then you’ve got Adelanwa or ‘Alanbolo’ as he was fondly called.
Watching a tape of Boston Celtic great, Bill Russell, Alabonlo learnt how to play with his back to the basket, at a time when almost every other Nigerian player only knew to play facing the basket.
Alabonlo’s big transformation came after an encounter with then Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) in Lagos, 1971.
His charisma with the ball stood him out of the crowd game after game. The player would always smile while on the ball and he demonstrated good sportsmanship.
After his playing days, the great b-baller was an international referee of high repute till he retired to his home in Ogun state to teach the interested youths the game of basketball.
Yomi Sangodeyi was Nigeria’s first full-time Professional basketball player and also one of the very best centers the nation has had.
‘Yomi Basket’ as he was fondly known, lived up to his name in every game he played in, from slam shots, to offensive, to defensive plays to steals. Yomi was always right and top of any game he played in Nigeria. No national team he ever played for lost, including Ogun Rocks, which he commanded for many seasons.
The remarkable thing about this great player is that he passed on some of his skill to a Nigerian who later became one of the best basketball players the world has ever seen.
Yomi took a young Hakeem under his tutelage at Ogun Rocks and helped shaped ‘the dream’ into the player the world revered.
Hakeem Olajuwon is undisputabely the best and most successful basketball player to come out of Africa.
His display of pure skill, dedication and humility stood-him-out from every other player on the pitch, game after game only saw ‘the dream’ get better and better at being the best.