By Colin Udoh | ESPN
Not so long ago, Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo seemed completely lost to Nigeria. Now, it appears he could maybe, possibly, perhaps be on the verge of playing his international basketball for the African country as they actively court him to do so.
What a difference a year makes.
Last summer, the Heat’s centre/power forward had been included in Team USA’s provisional roster for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and looked all set to travel with them to the tournament in China.
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Adebayo had earned and accepted the invitation to Team USA’s training camp after a slew of top NBA players declined to participate at the tournament. At the time, the player had averaged 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists with the Heat.
But the then 22-year-old was cut from the final roster. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo announced that Adebayo and Thaddeus Young were the unfortunate ones not to make the roster.
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That decision, it would seem, may have opened the door to Nigeria, as the basketball federation is now looking to woo the 6’8″ center to play for them internationally.
Adebayo, who has had a superb season for the Finals-contending Heat, is eligible to represent the African country through his father, and did not rule out the possibility earlier this year at the NBA All Star Weekend in Chicago.
“My dad is Nigerian so if they asked me, I would consider it,” Adebayo told ESPN at the time, in what feels like an alternate universe compared to the state of the world currently.
And now, it appears Nigeria are asking, just weeks after Adebayo told The Undefeated of his pride in his Nigerian name and heritage.
Nigeria Basketball Federation president Musa Kida says the organization would like to have Adebayo on D’Tigers roster for the Olympic Games next year.
“Having Bam in our national team is a possibility that we are considering as a federation ahead of the 2020 Olympics and beyond,” Kida stated in a statement released by the NBBF to ESPN.
“We are excited about how far he has gone and what he can achieve in his career with D’Tigers if he chooses to play for Nigeria.”
And he has indeed achieved a lot. After getting left off Team USA, Adebayo responded by taking his efforts to another level, to become one of the most productive players in the NBA pre-bubble.
Bam started in all 47 pre-bubble games this season leading up to the All Star Weekend, averaging 16 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.17 steals, 1.13 blocks and 34.5 minutes on 58.9 percent shooting from the field.
Those numbers meant he was team leader in defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds and total rebounds. He also led the team in blocks, minutes, double-doubles, triple-doubles, double-figure scoring games and double-figure rebounding games, while leading Miami in rebounds a team-high 33 times and in assists on 14 occasions, the second-most on the team.
He also recorded three triple-doubles, becoming just the fourth player in franchise history to record at least three triple-doubles during a single-season while becoming the youngest (22 years, 145 days) to post a triple-double in team history.
Bam scores the first points of the game in his return
Bam Adebayo beats the Lakers in transition and scores the first points of the game in his return.
Along with Jimmy Butler‘s three triple-doubles this season, they became the only Heat teammates to record multiple triple-doubles in the same season and the first pair of teammates with at least three apiece prior to the All-Star break since Jordan and Pippen did so in 1992-93.
That efficiency saw Adebayo earn his first All Star selection honors along with Butler. Even better, he was also invited to Team USA’s Olympic camp in February. Unlike the World Cup selection process, there were no tryouts.
Instead, 44 finalists were named, with the final 12 expected to be named in June. Those plans were disrupted by the COVID-10 pandemic.
When the NBA resumed in the bubble, Adebayo was a key part of the number five-seeded Heat team which beat both the number one Milwaukee Bucks and third-seeded Boston Celtics to surprise their way to the NBA Finals, where they are now facing a herculean task against the Lebron James-led Los Angeles Lakers.
Win or lose, this year has got to count as one of phenomenal accomplishments for the 23-year-old. Rattling off record numbers, earning an All Star selection, getting an Olympic camp selection, and reaching the NBA Finals must make for real heady contemplation.
But Nigeria are now looking to sneak in and steal Adebayo from under the noses of the USA. Part of Nigeria and Kida’s optimism comes from Adebayo’s unhappiness at the way he was cut from team USA.
In May, his less-than-impressed Twitter reaction to a video on his time with Team USA probably opened that door.
With USA having suffered humiliation at the World Cup, where they could only finish seventh, they will be smarting to repair some of that reputational damage at the Olympics, meaning Adebayo could possibly miss out again.
Nigeria, however, would then offer him a path to the Games.
There’s more. D’Tigers won the AfroBasket in 2015 and have finished second four times. They were only a few puzzle pieces away from a podium finish at the World Cup.
Bam could be one of those pieces, with Timberwolves’ Josh Okogie, San Antonio Spurs’ Chimezie Metu, Orlando Magic’s Al Farouq Aminu, and Adebayo’s Heat teammate Gabe Vincent being NBA players on the roster, plus Spencer Dinwiddie on the way.
Kida says D’Tigers’ rising profile in the world, and the addition of those key pieces from the NBA, could also help sway Adebayo their way.
“Before now, players like Josh Okogie and Chimezie Metu would have had second thoughts about playing for Nigeria, but when the Technical Crew presented the project to them, they were excited and they jumped on it,” he said.
Whether Adebayo pulls on the Nigeria is still a long way off, as are the Olympics, but the door is more open than it has ever been.
Read from source ESPN