Three of the top ten draftees in the 2021 NBA draft were from teams not in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) program.
This is not how USA Basketball expected to open its Olympic summer.
Nigeria probably didn’t expect it, either.
If there was any expectation of invincibility for the Americans heading into the Tokyo Olympics, it’s already gone – after Nigeria shocked the US in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Nigeria beat the US 90-87, pulling off a shock international upset with a roster primarily filled of little-known NBA players that found a way to defeat a group of All-NBA, All-Star and max-contract performers.
“I thought that the Nigerian team played very physically, did a great job in that regard and knocked down a lot of 3s,” US coach Gregg Popovich said. “Give them credit.”
Gabe Nnamdi, who goes by Gabe Vincent when playing for the Miami Heat, led Nigeria with 21 points. Caleb Agada scored 17 points, Ike Nwamu added 13 and Nigeria outscored the US 60-30 from 3-point range.
Kevin Durant, who had never before played in a loss for USA Basketball in 39 senior international games, had 17 points. Jayson Tatum added 15, Damian Lillard had 14 and Bam Adebayo 11.
“Just goes to show that we have to play better,” Tatum said.
The Americans had gone 39-0 in their last three Olympic seasons – including pre-Olympic exhibitions – on their way to gold medals and had been 54-2 in major exhibitions since NBA players began playing for USA Basketball in 1992.
Plus, they’d beaten Nigeria by a combined 127 points in their last two meetings, one at the 2012 London Games, the other a warm-up for the 2016 Rio Games.
Not this time.
“Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said.