I Remain the Best Basketball Coach in Nigerian, But not Celebrated—–Coach Fregene
Gubemi Fregene was the Ex-Head Coach of Delta State Basketball Association but now the Technical Director of the Delta State Basketball Association. In this interview held at the Warri Township Stadium with our correspondent Frank Efe, he lamented that Nigerians are not celebrating their best and he also spoke on other national sport issues. Excerpt
Please introduce yourself to us
My name is Gubeme Fregene, former head Coach, Delta State Basketball Association and now the Technical Director of the Delta State Basketball Association.
Please tell us a little beat of your pedigree
Well, first and foremost I give thanks to God Almighty who made it possible for me to achieve a lot of success in the field of Basketball. It is on record that I worn the Nestle Milo Secondary School Basketball Competition back to back twice – 2002/3 and 2003/4. In the South-South Basketball Championship in 2004, I defeated First Bank of Lagos. Coming to international Championship, I was in Durban and I was the first black to play ball game in Durban in 2008 where I won Invitational Secondary School International Championship. Again in 2005, I was the first black in the world to win a World Secondary School Championship in Bonis Aris, Argentina. The team was then led by His Excellency, Mrs. Nkoyo Ibori, the President of the Nigerian School Sports Federation, Mr. Timothy Ademola Olaya, the Commissioner for Education then, Mrs. Veronica Ogbuagu, the Director of Schools then, Mrs. Obi Odapko. These are some of my achievements so far and I want to let you know that I have more than fifty players abroad. In Manchester I have eleven girls from Warri here. I have about five boys and six girls in the United States of America who are all on scholarship. I have three in Ukraine, four in Holand and five in Netherland. Despite all these achievements
Why do you think you are not been celebrated? Do you think it is political?
Yes, it is because of politics. You can see recently where a journalist was made a board member in the Nigerian Basketball Federation. Sam Amadu, a FIFA graded member was disqualified based on rumours. That is how bad it is in the Nigerian Basketball Federation. Most of the Coaches coaching the teams, example, Scot Nnaji was seventh or eighth in the Women Basketball Championship. When I was coaching, I was third- First Bank, Dolphin, Delta Queens and Delta Force- but I was never invited because I was never in a Secret Society and I do not want to belong to any. And I do not want to be leaking people’s boots. So that is why you see that we have a lot of problems in the Nigerian Basketball Federation. The only thing that is saving the association are the boys abroad; the Oyedejis and others who puts their acts together. If it were not for them, the association is in shambles as far as I am concerned.
What do you think can be done to restore the image of the association?
What can be done to restore the image of the association is to declare the election illegal and a fresh election should be conducted, because I see no reason why Sam Amadu should be disqualified. He and Marlon are FIFA members known in Zurich. But Mr. Marlon wrote a letter to the International Sports Commission that he (Amadu) is fake FIFA member. And when Sam Amadu protested to Oju Oba, the Head of the panel, he refused to listen to him and he was actually disqualified. So if the cancel the election and bring back Amadu, then we will know that a new chapter in the area of basketball has opened.
Are you now saying that the Association is not united?
It can never be united because something that is illegal is illegal. There is always a problem where you have a body that is not constituted. I do not see the reason why Sam Amadu should be disqualified. So if he is not part of the election and he is a stakeholder in basketball and he has a lot of followers, I do not see any reason why there should not be factions. It is factionalized already and unless they cancel the election and reschedule it, sanity will not come into the association. I am talking about the National Association election that was held this month.
Now let us come back to you, what is the greatest challenge you are facing right now?
My greatest challenge right now is how I can develop the youths in basketball. You know I have retired and I cannot use my pension money to purchase equipment. So if am giving the opportunity, I hope to sustain the tempo. For example, Basketball has the highest record in Delta State right from the secondary school level to the female. There is no concrete centralized basketball court in Warri and there is no stadia you go to that you will not see a basketball court. These are the things we lack and I am using this opportunity to appeal to the lovely and indefatigable, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan to help construct a basketball court at the Warri City Stadium. The youths in Warri are enthusiastic about basketball and they want to play the game, but there are no basketball courts for them to play. If there is a court constructed at the Warri City Stadium everywhere will be bubbling and the name of the state will be held high and a lot of activities will be going on in the stadium because that is what is obtainable and that is what it should be. it is an appeal and I pray that his Excellency will use this opportunity to construct a modern basketball court in front of the stadium.
There was a time that basketball courts were constructed in strategic areas in Warri, called basketball for peace. What happened to that initiative?
The basketball for peace was a programme done in a hurry in order for peace to come. It was not done for developmental purpose. That is the reasons why you see that those courts are no longer there because as soon as the programme ends, nobody is interested in continuing that programme. Number two, the courts are not playable and there are no materials and manpower to carry on with such a magnitude of people. But if you have a court in the stadium, a coach will be there where you have movable upright and a lot of activities will be going on there and it will be permanent, just as you have the athletic tracks and football peach. So we should also have a basketball peach because basketball is leading both internationally and globally as far as statistics are concerned. The records are there for everybody to see.
You have helped a lot of youngsters whom you have trained and are now in abroad, what is your relationship with them?
My relationship with them is cordial but it cannot be cordial because are no centralized courts where they can bring their coaches from abroad for continuity purpose and for them to equally contribute their quota in terms of materials in developing the game. So that is the problem and that is why they are crying that there should be a court at the Warri City Stadium. If there is a court in the Warri City Stadium, all Deltans will be privileged to see them. It is not by saying they are playing in Morogun, basketball is not played in creeks, and you play it in a visible place.
Now let us talk about sports generally in Delta State. How do you look at sports generally in the state?
We are very lucky to have a wonderful and brilliant administrator in the person of our amiable Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the god-sent candidate who is not partial in whatever he is doing. He does not look at your tribe or position. In fact, like I said earlier we are very lucky to have because he has developed sports in all ramifications; from the primary school level to the secondary school level and the tertiary institutions. I do not think there is any governor in Nigeria who can beat his record. For example, the first governorship court which was televised live for all Nigerians to view, the position of Warri Wolves in Nigerian Premier League, the first athletic junior under 17 held in Nigeria in Delta State, and subsequent championship, which he has been sponsoring, both locally, nationally and internationally. You can agree with that it all these are money spending venture and that is where the human capital development impact is felt. All tribes in Delta State have benefitted in one way or the other from his three cardinal key points agenda. So I that God should guide and strengthen him and enable him continue his tenure in good health.
What is your advice for youths who want to take basketball as a profession?
Well, my advice for them is that apart from playing basketball, education is another area that is very important because in America, before you can play basketball, you must go to school. If you are not going to school, you cannot be allowed to play basketball in college because there is a different between those who play in College and those who play street basketball. So I do not encourage people to play street basketball and that is why I lay my emphasis on education and basketball. You should not be playing basketball only in Nigeria, but you should also think of travelling outside the country for major competitions where you can be signed by clubs outside the country so that you can be working and the same time, be giving scholarship.
How long have you been in this profession?
I started playing basketball in the year 1972. I played for the national team for some time and then retired. We were the first mid-westerners to represent the Mid-Western states in the country. And this is where my gratitude goes to the former military Governor of defund Mid-Western state, Brigadier Samuel Osaigbovbo Ogbemudia who employed me as a programme athlete in the defund Mid-Western State of Nigeria. Since then I have benefitted immensely from not only playing basketball, but for the development of the game in the defund Mid-Western State, Bendel State and now Delta State. Most of my achievement as a coach in Bendel State as a coach in School of Nursing and Midwifery I won back to back in Benin and Ilorin. After that I won a gold medal for the University of Benin at Ile-Ife. Then Adamu Baiki was the Vice Chancellor. I was the first coach to win a gold medal after nine years of monopoly by ABU, Zaria. And this State (Delta) was created I saw it as an avenue for me to develop players in Warri because I discovered that the youths in Warri are sports people in nature which is due to the environment and the hustling and bustling. So like Ogbemudia used to tell us those that you do not give money to people, but you show them the way to get money. And that was the way I followed. So when NNPC and Chevron Joint Venture build a basketball court in Don Domigo College, that opened another chapter and since then I have produced a lot of players that are all over Europe, America and the world. All these are products of the human capital development initiatives of both the past and present governors, because if you do not expose youths to the international level, they will be naïve and flat footed. They will not have a sense of belonging and this will help you to reduce crime in the state and I applaud the governors for that. I equally took a team to the World Female Secondary School Games in Argentina in 2005 where Nana College Emerge winner. It will interest you to know that I am the first black to that.
Why do you have so much passion for the game of basketball?
I lost my father when I was in primary school and there was no room for formal education. I then looked at my height and I believed in my height before Ogbemudia discovered me. When Ogbemudia discovered me, it made me love basketball – not for monitory reason but for me to contribute towards the development of the game in the then Mid-Western State of Nigeria. After that, when I retired in Bendel State as a Programme Athlete, I told myself that since I have played the game, why can’t I be a coach? That was how I started coaching. I coached up to the University of Benin where I won the first medal in the female category in Ile-Ife in 1994. We defeated Ahmedu Bello University; if you go to the University of Benin now you will see the medal there. I was the first coach to win it for them. So that has been my interest in the game ever since. It is like the Chinese proverb that says that you do not give people fish but you teach them how to fish. This is exactly what His Excellency is doing; human capital development. He made provision for micro finance, participation in Sports, agriculture, education, quiz, broadcasting and other areas. And all these are developmental programmes.
What is your message to Nigerians?
My final word to the people of Nigeria is that these incessant killings should stop because whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, we are one entity. We should guide our statements and we should not incite the people against our governors, President, Vice President, Senators or those in position of authority. We should always pray for them because you that is always accusing them will aspire to become a leader. If you are always accusing people and people now know you as an accuser, how can you be an achiever?