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NBA teams draft a record-breaking 8 players of Nigerian descent

Nigeria dominated the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday, with a record eight players of Nigerian descent being selected by NBA teams. Amadou Gallo Fall, president of the Basketball Africa League, told CBS News on Thursday that the accomplishment means even more amid political unrest in the country and the devastating coronavirus pandemic

"In this incredible, challenging time with the pandemic and recent event that happened in Nigeria, this is a great story," Fall said. "Young people really being at center stage, providing inspiration to this next generation... just to show that it's possible." 

The Cleveland Cavaliers selected 19-year-old Isaac Okoro with the 5th draft pick on Wednesday. During a post-draft news conference, a reporter asked the Auburn University star what it meant to be first Nigerian drafted that year. 

"It feels great to be the first Nigerian in this draft to be drafted," Okoro replied. "It's also just a blessing [...] my mom always tells me to keep that Nigerian pride. Even though I wasn't born in Nigeria, I still got Nigerian blood. So, it's just having that on my shoulders."

Auburn v Kentucky
Isaac Okoro, who played for the Auburn Tigers, is seen during a game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on February 29. / Getty Images

NBA teams also selected Onyeka Okongwu (No. 6), Precious Achiuwa (No. 20), Zeke Nnaji (No. 22), Udoka Azubuike (No. 27), Desmond Bane (No. 30), Daniel Oturu (No. 33) and Jordan Nwora (No. 45). All of them have parents or a parent who is Nigerian, with the exception of Achiuwa and Azubuike, who were born in Nigeria. 

Achiuwa and Azubuike were both taken in the first round, marking the first time two players from Nigeria were taken in the first round of the same draft. 

All-star Victor Oladipo, a point guard and shooting guard for the Indiana Pacers whose parents are from Nigeria, commented on the draft night feat during an NBA virtual conference.

"Nigerian American athletes in general, not only in the game of basketball but in sports all over the country, all over the U.S., are continuing to prosper," he said. "We had quite a few in the draft yesterday, there's quite a few doing their thing for the continent of Africa and obviously Nigeria as well."

"I'm honored and blessed just to be one of those athletes that are continuing to represent our country to the fullest," he added. 

As of 2018, there were more than 375,000 Nigerian immigrants living in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. 

Overall, there are currently 19 players in the NBA who are Nigerian or are of Nigerian descent, including reigning MVP and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo

Fall said the number is only going to grow as Nigeria's participation in the sport has expanded over the last 15 to 20 years. The NBA is working on making the sport "more accessible to young players" and expanding academies throughout the continent to groom talent, he said. 

The NBA-backed BAL, a 12-team basketball league playing across Africa, was supposed to begin this year — but it was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

For now, Fall said he was proud of those who have been selected to play in America's top league. "I think today across Africa, whether you're from Mali or Tanzania, Senegal, we're all proud to see that," he said. 

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