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Jahlil Okafor commits to Nigeria for Olympic basketball

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Four years ago, Jahlil Okafor was tapped for the USA Basketball select team, a promising sign that he could make an Olympic team in the 2020s.

It does appear that Okafor is going to the Tokyo Games, but not for the United States.

Okafor committed to play for his paternal grandfather’s native Nigeria, according to ESPN’s The Undefeated. Nigeria’s basketball federation later posted the same news via its social media but has not responded to messages seeking confirmation.

Okafor is best known as a star freshman on Duke’s 2015 national championship team. Two months later, he was the No. 3 overall NBA Draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers.

He has played for three teams in five seasons. Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie. Now with the New Orleans Pelicans, Okafor hasn’t played more than 10 minutes in a game since fellow former Duke freshman big man Zion Williamson made his debut Jan. 22.

Nigeria, which went 1-4 at its two Olympics in 2012 and 2016, has a player pool that includes current and former NBAers Al-Farouq Aminu, Josh Okogie and Ike Diogu.

It qualified for Tokyo as the top-placing African nation at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, where it placed 17th.

Veteran NBA coach Mike Brown was named Nigeria’s head coach earlier this month.

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China’s Olympic men’s basketball streak in danger; Iran, Nigeria qualify for Tokyo

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China sent a men’s basketball team to every Olympics from 1984 through 2016. Its streak is in danger of being snapped.

China lost to Nigeria 86-73 in its last FIBA World Cup game on Sunday. That means Iran claimed the lone Asian Olympic qualifying spot available at the tournament, after the Iranians beat the Philippines 95-75, also Sunday.

China will get a last chance to qualify to play at its 10th straight Olympics at a tournament next year, where it likely must go through a higher-ranked European nation.

Nigeria’s win meant that the D’Tigers are going to their third straight Olympics. Nigeria needed to beat China to overtake Tunisia for the lone African Olympic berth available at the World Cup.

Nigeria, which went 1-4 at its two Olympics in 2012 and 2016, has a roster that includes current and former NBA players Al-Farouq Aminu, Josh Okogie and Ike Diogu.

Iran goes to its first Olympics since going winless in 2008, when it qualified with a boost by not having to better host nation China. Its roster is led by former Memphis Grizzlies 7-footer Hamed Haddadi.

Iran and Nigeria join Australia and Japan as the first four teams in the 12-team Olympic field. Four more nations will qualify for the Olympics at this month’s World Cup — two from the Americas and two from Europe.

The last four will be determined next year at those last-chance qualifying tournaments.

Only Australia has played in more consecutive Olympic men’s basketball tournaments on the active list than China.

China and the U.S. each played in every tournament starting with the 1984 Los Angeles Games. China didn’t participate in the Summer Olympics at all from 1956 through 1980. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

China lost 12 straight Olympic contests dating to when it hosted the 2008 Beijing Games. Now-retired Yao Ming led the team in 2000, 2004 and 2008, but the nation has never reached an Olympic semifinals.

Yao, now president of China’s basketball federation, was reportedly asked who was responsible for this failure. “Me,” he replied to end the brief interview.

Fellow former NBA big man Yi Jianlian is the new elder statesman, at 31 years old and perhaps on his way to a fifth Olympics. In 2004, Yi played at age 16. He remains the youngest man to play Olympic basketball since 1948.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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U.S. comes back, beats Nigeria to reach FIBA World Cup semifinals

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The U.S. trailed Nigeria for most of the first half of their FIBA World Cup quarterfinal.

Even with 2-for-16 shooting in the first quarter, the Americans rattled off eight straight points going into the break, then rolled to a 71-40 win in the Canary Islands on Friday.

“We had a lot of layups that just didn’t go in, and we weren’t too concerned about it,” Breanna Stewart, who scored a game-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, said, according to USA Basketball. “We were happy with our defense, and we knew offense was going to come.”

The U.S., rallying from a 17-9 deficit after the opening frame, improved to 13-0 all-time against African nations at the senior level.

If the U.S. wins its next two games for a third straight world title (and 2020 Olympic qualification), it will run its record between the Olympics and World Cup to 100-1 in the last 22 years. The lone loss came to Russia in the 2006 Worlds semifinals.

Next up in Saturday’s semifinals: 28th-ranked Belgium, playing in the Olympics or the World Cup for the first time. The Belgians crushed world No. 3 France 86-65 in a later Friday quarterfinal.

This American team is without stalwarts from its previous decade of undefeated play at the Olympics and worlds. Tamika Catchings and Lindsay Whalen retired after Rio. Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again after being left off the 2016 Olympic team.

Minnesota Lynx stars Seimone AugustusSylvia Fowles and Maya Moore, as well as Angel McCoughtry, are reportedly either resting or recuperating from injuries following the WNBA season.

It wasn’t until the U.S.’ fourth game of the tournament Friday that Brittney Griner was well enough from an ankle injury to join Sue BirdDiana TaurasiBreanna Stewart and Tina Charles as starters. Elena Delle Donne, who suffered a knee injury in the WNBA playoffs, saw significant action for the first time in three games with 17 minutes off the bench against Nigeria.

The U.S. has still won all of its games by double digits, but none came against a world power.

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