Ogoke talks D’Tigress journey and Olympic Games quest

SARAH Ogoke’s journey with Nigeria’s D’Tigress started 13 years ago (2011) when she was a junior in college. She received a call-up to represent Nigeria in the Women’s AfroBasket in Mali, and from there, she has been part of building the D’Tigress into a powerhouse.

Although Nigeria finished the AfroBasket in fourth place that year, the experience marked her journey towards winning four consecutive AfroBasket titles (from 2017).

The already accomplished Ogoke now has the potential to achieve another milestone with the D’Tigress – becoming an Olympian. Ogoke and Nigeria are on a quest for a ticket to this year’s Olympic Games in Paris. Their journey to Paris begins at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which tipped off in Antwerp, Belgium on Thursday.

In an interview with The Big Tip Off, American-born Ogoke discusses her experience as a D’Tigress, captaining the team, the upcoming Olympic Qualifiers, and their ambitions.

Nigeria's D'Tigresses
Sarah Ogoke (7, extreme right) will lead the D’Tigresses in the quest for an Olympic ticket. Pictures: FIBA

Ogoke, spent most of her youth in Nigeria, even attending nursery school there. Although growing up in the States, she frequently visited the West African nation during summers and Christmas holidays.

“I always wanted to have that opportunity to represent my homeland. When I got that call-up, I was extremely proud and excited to represent my country,” said Ogoke.

When the national team call-up arrived (in 2011), Ogoke achieved one of her dreams. At the time, she was the only college player on the team, with all her teammates being professionals. She found it very encouraging. Since then, the team improved with each tournament.

The team’s progress runs parallel to her personal growth. She is currently studying for her PhD in at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine

“You know, I would say in my first three AfroBaskets we just got closer and closer to winning. In 2017 came first… From there it has been a consistent climb for the program,” said the Ogoke 33-year-old. “We just keep getting better and better.”

Ogoke acknowledges balancing a demanding academic and athletic schedule is like walking a tightrope.

“Its been everything. Its been extremely important. I played Division One basketball and I was a biology major. So believe it or not, I’ve been juggling high-level athletics and intense high level academics for a long, long time. I won’t say its been easy, but its not something new to me. I’ve been doing this since I was like 17 or 18 years old,” said Ogoke, winner of the 2019 FIBA African Women’s Champions Cup with Mozambique’s Ferroviario de Maputo.

She recently took on the high-pressure job of captaining Nigeria. A role she accepted ahead of last year’s AfroBasket in Rwanda. Ogoke would lead the team to the title, a process she feels brought on a different accountability.

“I take a lot of pride in being the captain. Being the veteran on the team, I have to lead and be the best example for the younger players on the team,” said Ogoke.

“I would say I have always been relevant to the team, but once attaining that captain status, it gave me a lot of confidence to show up… Especially as a veteran.

“I cannot rely on anyone else. As a former role player, I was able to win titles, but now that I have the captain status, the responsibility for winning or losing falls solely on me. Therefore, I took this responsibility very seriously and did my best to help the team achieve our goals.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by AfroBallers (@afroballers)

While she (Ogoke) led on the floor during the championship run, Rena Wakama called the shots from the bench. Wakama became the youngest and first female coach that the federation appointed. She was also the first female coach to win the AfroBasket.

“It’s been phenomenal, Coach Rena knows how to get us going, to motivate us, she can relate to us,” said the shooting guard.

Ogoke had high praise for Wakama’s leadership of the team.

“She is a woman. She is young, so it is like playing with a friend, or a big sister,” says Ogoke. “I feel like it made us much closer because she is much more relatable to us being a young woman. It’s been an absolute pleasure and joy playing for her.”

The D’Tigress arrived in Belgium four days before the start of The Qualifying Tournament – a similar situation to the 2023 AfroBasket. As a result, they have had limited time to prepare. Despite this challenge, they have created a team DNA of being undeterred.

“Nigerians are naturally perseverant, naturally prone to just getting things done regardless of our circumstances,” says Ogoke. “This is a young team but this team is extremely mature as well, we never make excuses and we always do our best to make the best the best out of everything we’re given.”

D'Tigresses
Sarah Ogoke holds AfroBasket winning coach team coach Rena Wakama in high regard.

D’Tigress began their Olympics campaign against a familiar foe, Senegal, whom they beat to clinch their fourth AfroBasket title. Nigeria won the match 72- 65. Ogoke, who scored 11 points and dished out five dimes, was complimentary of their West African neighbours ahead of the game.

“Senegal is a great team, they take a lot of pride in their program. They can’t be taken lightly, only our best we will do,” said Ogoke. “They have solid team, with a new coach (Alberto Antuna) so we’re gonna go in and do our absolute best and play hard.”

The Nigerian team will play the USA on Friday and Belgium on Sunday. Two tickets are available for their group, so winning at least one match improves their chances of qualifying for the Olympics.

“The main thing is that this is an opportunity that may never come again, there is only ever gonna be one Paris 2024 Olympics,” said Ogoke. “This is our chance to capture a ticket and become Olympians… To sew our name in sports history for all of eternity. So we have to go there understanding what is at stake and give it our all.”

Ogoke and D’Tigress have their work cut out for them, but they have risen to the occasion before, even when conditions don’t favour them.

With a ticket to Paris at stake, you can be sure the D’Tigress will have the tenacity and will to get the job done.

Ogoke talks D’Tigress journey and Olympic Games quest Read More »