TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – Prior to the start of the recent pre-Olympic men’s basketball exhibition game between the United States and Nigeria on July 10, former Seminole point guard Luke Loucks realized he was singing the words to a familiar national anthem.
Only he wasn’t singing the Star Spangled Banner.
He was singing Arise, O Compatriots, the national anthem of Nigeria.
“Leading up to the game (against the United States), in every team meeting, Head Coach Mike Brown would make one of the young players lead the whole group in the Nigerian national anthem,” said Loucks. “It was really cool for us, because I didn’t know the Nigerian national anthem, but it’s going to be played at every one of our games.
“We get to the game, and our whole staff — which is a bunch of Americans — was singing the Nigerian National Anthem standing across from our American players. It was a little awkward, standing across from them (the United States players) while the American National Anthem was played, knowing that we are getting ready to fight.”
Loucks, a player development coach with the Golden State Warriors, will be in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics as an assistant coach for the Nigerian National team. He is the first Seminole men’s basketball player to be a part of an Olympic team.
Twelve countries will compete in Tokyo for Olympic Gold in Men’s Basketball. Seven countries – Argentina, Australia, France, Iran, Japan, Nigeria, Spain, and the United States – directly qualified through the FIBA Basketball World Cup tournament in 2019. As event host, Japan, automatically qualified. The final four countries competing in Tokyo – Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Slovenia – qualified for the Olympics by winning one of four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in 2021.
The group phase for Nigeria begins with a game against Australia at 8:00 a.m. ET on July 25. The quarterfinals of the tournament begin August 3 with the semifinals set for August 5. The gold medal game is on August 6 and the bronze medal game is on August 7.
Loucks was Florida State’s starting point guard during his senior season. He played on a school record four consecutive NCAA Tournament teams and helped the Seminoles win their first ACC Championship in 2012. In addition to helping lead the Seminoles to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and to the championship of the 2012 ACC Tournament, he led Florida State to the first two appearances in the championship game of the ACC Tournament in school history (2009 and 2012). During his career, he helped Florida State to the championships of the 2009 Global Sports Classic, the 2010 Old Spice Classic, two victories over the nation’s No. 1 ranked team (North Carolina in 2009 and Duke in 2011), and 16 victories over nationally ranked teams.
With Loucks in the line-up, the Seminoles were nationally ranked during each of his four seasons and ranked 10th nationally in the final Associated Press poll of the 2011-12 season. Prior to Loucks’ arrival, the Seminoles had not played in consecutive NCAA Tournaments since the 1992 and 1993 seasons, and had never played in the ACC Tournament Championship game.
Following a successful career as a Seminole playing for Head Coach Leonard Hamilton (2009-12), he played professionally in Latvia, Belgium, Germany and the NBA D-League before getting into coaching.
He began his coaching career with the Golden State Warriors, and helped them win NBA titles in 2017 and 2018. He began as a paid intern, analyzing video and helping with player development. For the last two years, he has been a player development coach with the Warriors.
Brown, currently the Warriors associate head coach, approached Loucks in January of 2020 and asked him if he would be interested in becoming a member of the staff he was putting together for the Nigerian Team for the 2020 Olympics.
Loucks initially turned down the offer and recommended others he thought were equally qualified for the assistant coaching position.
Brown later circled back to Loucks who couldn’t say no to one of his mentors a second time.
“He’s (Coach Brown) been a head coach for Cleveland twice, and the Lakers, and he’s coached some of the best in the game, Lebron, Kobe, Kyrie (Irving),” said Loucks. “And when he says, ‘These guys have a lot of talent,’ you listen. So, once he (Brown) committed, he pulled me back in and asked me to be a part of the staff as one of his assistant coaches. And of course, he couldn’t even finish the question. I said, ‘I’m in.’
“For the past 18 months, we’ve scraped and clawed to put a roster together. Mike’s been working 16-, 18-hour days on end just to get this thing to gel and galvanize and get a roster together and make sure the logistics are in place. You’re basically taking a country which has a pretty rich tradition of basketball talent.”
The Nigerian roster for the Tokyo Olympics lists eight current NBA players including Precious Achiuwa (Miami Heat), Jordan Nwora (Milwaukee Bucks and Louisville Cardinals), Jahlil Okafor (Detroit Pistons and Duke Blue Devils) and Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets). They enter the Olympic tournament ranked 22nd in the world.
The Nigerians started their training camp on June 20th in Las Vegas, and Loucks quickly realized Brown had assembled a special group of players.
“We brought a lot of the young guys that haven’t really been a part of this, a couple high school players, a couple college players, a lot of European players and worked out with those guys for a week,” said Loucks. “Then our NBA guys came in and worked out with those guys for another week, before we even took off for Las Vegas. We’re trying to not only install offensive and defensive principles, but kind of a culture in a really short amount of time, and these guys have never really experienced it.”
Their first experience came against the United States, where Loucks was admittedly a little nervous and anxious.
“We knew we were athletic, and we knew we could fly around,” said Loucks. “Against Team USA, we made a ton of shots. I think we made 20 3’s. We shot like 26 3’s in the first half, which wasn’t necessarily our game plan. But sometimes over the course of the game, especially against a good team, you just got to adjust on the fly. So we knew we wanted to pick up full court, we knew we wanted to be intense on defense.”
The result was a 90-87 win over the United States – the first-ever victory in men’s basketball by a team from Africa over the U.S.
“Over the course of 40 minutes against the USA, things just kind of clicked and came together,” said Loucks. “Obviously, it was a blast, a lot of fun. The guys were going nuts in the locker room.”
Sounds like Loucks and the members of the delegation better get used to singing the Nigerian national anthem in Tokyo.