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Former Bison joins Team Nigeria in quest to qualify for Basketball World Cup

Former University of Manitoba Bisons basketball star Keith Omoerah feels right at home in Nigeria.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/07/2018 (1670 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Former University of Manitoba Bisons basketball star Keith Omoerah feels right at home in Nigeria.

The 6-5 guard, who wowed crowds at the Investors Group Athletic Centre for four seasons with his ability to finish above the rim before graduating in 2017, now has the opportunity to do the same as a member of Nigeria’s senior national team. Omoerah, a Grant Park High School grad who was born and raised in Winnipeg, has family ties to Nigeria, as his father was born and raised there before he moved to Canada in 1986.

The 26-year-old Omoerah didn’t even know playing for Nigeria would be an option for him until this season, his first as a pro. His coach at Bærum Basket, a professional team in Norway’s premier league, encouraged him to look into the opportunity. Omoerah landed in Nigeria on June 18 to try to crack the roster, one that includes former NBA players such as Ike Diogu and Ben Uzoh, and that’s exactly what he did as he was officially named to the team last week.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese Manitoba Bisons' Keith Omoerah, left, scores in front of McGill Redmen Jenning Leung, centre, and Michael Peterkin during second half USports basketball quarterfinal action in Halifax.

“Truthfully, it was a hard reality to grasp at first that I would be able to wear this jersey and represent and serve my country,” said Omoerah in a phone interview from Nigeria. “It’s truly an honour and I’m lucky to be in this position.”

Despite living in Canada his whole life and having never been to Nigeria before last month, Omoerah said it doesn’t feel strange to wear the country’s green and white colours on the hardwood.

“Just as much as I am Canadian, I am Nigerian. Whether I’m in Canada, Nigeria or Europe, I am who I am and that’s not going to change. For me, it doesn’t feel odd — it feels right,” said Omoerah, who averaged 18.7 points and 10 rebounds per game last season in Norway and was a league all-star.

Omoerah and his Nigerian teammates are trying to qualify for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China. The second leg of the qualification process was on the weekend with Nigeria winning all three of its games to put it at the top of its group. The third leg of qualifying resumes in September, with the top five African countries earning bids to the World Cup.

Omoerah, who averaged just under 17 minutes per game over the weekend and scored seven points in three games, said it’s a different type of game in Africa.

“It was a really humbling experience,” said Omoerah, who plans to play professionally in Europe again in the fall, but has yet to sign with a club. “There are some really good, quality players here. The biggest difference is the physicality in the African game compared to the European. The African game is much more physical. It’s more about toughness and grit.”

Omoerah isn’t the only former Bison to be doing big things in the game of basketball overseas.

Former U of M teammate Amarjit Basi, another Winnipeg native, is coming off an impressive rookie season playing professionally in Europe. Basi plays in England for the Newcastle Eagles and was named the team’s most improved player for the 2017-18 season. And the man in charge of the Bisons’ basketball program, head coach Kirby Schepp, is currently in Argentina coaching the Canadian under-17 team at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup. Canada is 3-0 after group play and has advanced to the round of 16, which begins today.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese Former Manitoba Bison Amarjit Basi, front, is a Winnipeg native playing professionally in Europe for the Newcastle Eagles.

“(Schepp) is really turning the program around and he’s doing it with local guys, too,” Omoerah said.

“Years ago, there weren’t guys coming out and playing professionally from the University of Manitoba, but I think that also goes to show the growth of basketball we’re having in Canada and Manitoba as well.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
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Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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Updated on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 7:25 PM CDT: fixes background image

Updated on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 9:00 PM CDT: Full write through

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