The game of basketball in Nigeria is gradually hitting the frontline with more private participation. In this light, the Continental Basketball League (CBL) is revolutionizing the sport and recently celebrated Lagos @50 with May Madness Basketball Tournament that saw the best of basketball in Africa. Ugo Udezue, the CEO of CBL and Dennis Ebikoro, a veteran basketball player spoke to BusinessDay’s Anthony Nlebem about the CBL Internship Program, a clinic aimed at discovering talents and preparing them for the future. Excerpts:
Can you throw more light on the CBL Internship Program?
Ugo: The reason behind the CBL Internship Program is to provide multiple opportunities for retiring players in the sports business and outside of sports. Our industry is not where it needs to be yet for players to have consistent and substantial income after the game so we have to help them.
What age groups are you targeting?
Ugo: We are not necessarily looking at age groups; anybody that has the opportunity to grow and learn is welcome to our programme, so age does not matter here.
It’s in our best interest to educate more people in the real business of sports because as the industry grows we would have created a lot of opportunities.
How do you intend to take it further?
Ugo: We want to take this to all our teams across Nigeria and Africa. This will be taken further in coming years.
What’s the duration?
Ugo: It’s an on-going exercise and there is no duration. We want the kids to come, learn and identify their specialties as we progress and our hope is to hire them and give them a job here at CBL and also give them opportunities to further their education.
Is it all about basketball?
Ugo: Basketball is a litmus test to what we are trying to do; we are hoping that other sports federations and organizations will emulate what we are doing here.
Any plans to take the programme outside Lagos?
Ugo: Absolutely, this is not going to be a Nigerian thing; it’s about Africa. We are going to stick to all the countries and cities the CBL is played, and even take it further.
Outside CBL Internship, What do you think the government should do to help grow sports business in Nigeria?
I do not believe in bailouts, I believe in equitable concessions as in most developed countries that can come in multiple incentives for those adding real value to the industry. When we first started everyone said no one watches basketball but now they pay to come to watch our games. We have provided an entertaining environment and value. When you provide value people will buy.
Can you introduce yourself?
Dennis: My name is Dennis Ebikoro, I play with the Abidjan Ramblers, but at the moment, I am with the Continental Basketball League (CBL), for the Internship programme where we are grooming young and upcoming basketball players.
How long have you been playing basketball?
Dennis: My first year in the league was 2003; I first played in African Cup Championship in Egypt in 2003 and 2004 season. I played for Ebun Comets in Nigeria for some years; in 2006 I went professional in Qatar, where I played for one season. I represented the National team from 2006 to 2009. I played in Germany for USC Freiburg basketball team for a season. I also played in the Tunisian league where I had a serious knee injury that kept me out for a year and six months. After recovering from my knee injury, I played two seasons in Libya and left because of the civil war that broke out. We went to develop basketball in Sri Lanka, where I played for two years and also worked for a maritime security firm as a consultant, now with the Continental Basketball League (CBL) to develop the game in Nigeria and Africa.
What are your expectations and what do you hope to achieve?
Dennis: We are building a youth development programme for young basketball players, which one of my colleagues and I have been in the process piecing together. Our goal is to help teach the kids how to think for themselves, enlighten them with basketball and also teach them life after basketball.
What next after the CBL Internship Program?
Dennis: Now am working for myself; I will say this is life after basketball and I want to give out to the community because basketball made me who I am today. Growing up, my story was a terrible one, but basketball refined me. I want to give back to the kids and enlighten the kids that sports can take them off the street, reduce crime rate and make them responsible citizens.
Any point you felt like quitting basketball?
Dennis: In 2010, I had another reconstruction on my knee where I stayed out for months and I started adding weight. At that point, the thought of quitting the game came to my mind, but when I went back to training, my comeback was incredible.
How many years in your basketball career?
Dennis: I have been in basketball for over fifteen years and I have played in over twenty countries.
If you did not play basketball, what else would you have done?
Dennis: I would have been selling drugs, if I had not played basketball; basketball took me off the jungle in Bayelsa state and refined me. I was born in Lagos, after completing my high school, I moved to Bayelsa where I was hustling to make ends meet. I left my parents at age 16 and I grew up in a broken home and at Bayelsa, I met friends that were into hard drugs; selling cocaine, but at a point, God touched my Life and I came back to Lagos and was called up by Ebun Comets to come play the African Club Champion, that was where it all started. Former D’Tigers coach, Ayo Bakare played a very big role in my career, he taught me a lot.
Will you allow your children to play basketball?
Dennis: Yes, I have a nine-year-old son and a six years old daughter; these kids will have to divert that energy to sport.
What position do you play?
Dennis: I play positions three and four.