Nigeria's Josh Okogie praises Mike Brown, makes history at All-Star weekend

Josh Okogie became the first Nigeria international to play at an All Star weekend when he took to the court in the Rising Stars Game. Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

One has to go all the way back to Hakeem Olajuwon to find a Nigerian presence at the NBA All Star weekend, and even that would be stretching it, as he is technically an American who represented the USA, not Nigeria.

So it was refreshing to find Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie basking in the glow of that rarefied air in Chicago, featuring in the Rising Stars game for Team World.

Even though he didn't realise it at the time, the youngster made history by becoming the first Nigeria international to be involved in the All Star Weekend.

Okogie, 21, was selected as part of the World team led by Luka Doncic, which played and lost to the USA team led by Zion Wllliamson.

He was rightfully pleased about his accomplishment, but beyond that, Okogie took time to address the issue of Nigeria's coaching change ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

He welcomed the appointment of Cleveland Cavaliers' Mike Brown as head coach of the D'Tigers, and what he would bring to the side that has always promised much but delivered little on the big stage.

Asked what the biggest thing was that Brown would contribute, Okogie said: "I think just experience, in terms of coaching.

"Mike Brown has been coaching for a long time and he's been coaching on winning teams for a while so he definitely knows what a winning culture is like, and hopefully he can bring that kind of culture from that environment and help us get some wins.

"I like what Mike Brown brings to the table and I am looking forward to working with him and the team working with him and trying to get some wins."

One of the reasons the NBBF chased Brown's appointment was that the team needed to take the next step in major competition, having missed out on a top 10 finish at the FIBA World Cup in China last year.

Okogie admits that the squad needs much improvement to do well at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July, conceding that the team, should have done better at the World Cup.

He said: "We definitely want to see some improvements. There are a lot of things we could have done better at the World Cup but I am just glad we got the Olympics place too.

"We have time to work on this improvements and showcase those improvements at the Olympics."

But he stopped short of trying to project just how far D'Tigers would go at the Games: "I think we will just try to win one game at a time and see where that takes us."

Read: Paying homage to greatness -- 2020 All Star Game shows the power of basketball

Another subject Okogie is happy to talk about is the recently launched Basketball Africa League, which tips off next month in Dakar, Senegal.

Cameroonians Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam are two products of the NBA's youth-facing projects. And now, in conjunction with FIBA, the more high level BAL project has been announced.

Okogie's eye lids pop up at the mention of the BAL: "I was at the luncheon last year when they announced it and I was very excited to hear it.

"I like what the NBA is doing, opening doors for a lot of people back home in the motherland and I think it is going to be great. I think it is going to give a lot of kids opportunities.

"I was fortunate to be able to have this opportunity that I have now but there are a lot of kids out there who are not as fortunate and I think this is a huge step forward."

Okogie also had time to drop a few words of encouragement to the Nigeria women's basketball team, who just last week secured their own place at the Olympics.

Okogie added: "I remember when we were in Nigeria and we were watching our girls at the Afrobasket, they won that in Senegal. They have been doing great things in the past year.

"They have just qualified last week and they lost to the US. We should have won that game. That was a close game and I am proud of them, very proud of them.

"That is a very hardworking group and the sky is the limit for them, they play very well together and I am excited for what we can do in Tokyo."