It’s easy to overlook Tony Skinn’s name in a quick scan of the Nigerian men’s basketball team’s roster.
Guard, Anthony Oludewa Skinn, Number 4.
“Obviously Anthony is my real name,” said Skinn, “But, I don’t know if they wanted to make my name to sound more Nigerian, so they put my middle name down.”
The starting point guard for George Mason’s Cinderella Final Four team, Skinn hasn’t been back to Nigeria since he moved from there to Maryland when he was 2 years old. During his time with the Patriots, he listed his hometown as Takoma Park.
But in a little more than a week, he’ll represent the African nation as it makes its first appearance in Olympic basketball.
Nigeria captured the last remaining qualifying spot earlier this month by finishing second in Venezuela at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Skinn averaged 10 points per game and hit 42 percent of his threes during the five-game tournament. Ranked No. 21 in the world by FIBA, Nigeria shocked the field by erasing a 12-point halftime deficit to topple No. 4 Greece in the quarterfinals.
It will enter the summer Olympics as the second-lowest ranked squad to qualify, ahead of only No. 32 Tunisia. Britain, ranked 43rd, was granted a spot as the host nation.
“We have every chance that everybody else has in the Olympics,” Skinn said. “Man, people need to know that . . . those games weren’t flukes. When we step on that court, we’re going to fight. I don’t care who we play against.”
The Nigerian team trains in the United States and played exhibition games in Europe and Asia. Only the coach, Ayo Bakare, participated in a recent Nigerian promotional tour.
Along with Skinn, the team also has New Orleans Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu and former NBA lottery pick Ike Dioguon its roster. Skinn is just one of three Nigerian-born players on the 12-man squad. The others possess dual citizenship through their parents.
Skinn’s three-point shot and senior leadership helped George Mason make its NCAA Tournament run six years ago. The Patriots entered the tournament in 2006 as a No. 11 seed, and Skinn said he sees similarities with the Olympics.
“When I got down to the tournament in Venezuela, I kind of just looked around and let them know that this is like a Final Four, NCAA feeling,” Skinn said. “Just going through those games, it was definitely in the back of my head. Like I did this before, I can do this again.”
Without his game-winning three-pointer late in the regular season at Wichita State, the Patriots’ Cinderella run might not have happened. After they were bounced in the semifinal round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, many felt that was the win that got them into the tournament field.
Skinn was suspended for the team’s opening round win against Michigan State after he punched a Hofstra opponent in that semifinal loss. But he returned to help Mason beat North Carolina and Wichita State before meeting Connecticut in the region final. Mason, aided by home-court advantage at Verizon Center, knocked off the top-seeded Huskies to become the first mid-major program since 1979 to reach the Final Four.
“It was one of the best feelings ever because it was in my back yard,” Skinn said. “I probably had like 50 people there at that game. It’s incomparable when you can play at that type of game in front of all your family and friends.”
Skinn said the Final Four appearance is a big reason why he’s been able to continue playing basketball at a high level. Skinn spoke to former Mason coach Jim Larranaga last week, thanking him for giving him the opportunity to play.
“It’s my claim to fame, I guess,” Skinn said. “I’m just glad that I was part of it, because something like that only comes along once in a while. I was fortunate and blessed.”
Skinn went undrafted the following June and has spent the past seven seasons playing professionally overseas. He spent last season in Israel with Ironi Ashkelon, averaging 10.6 points per game, shooting 36.4 percent on three-pointers.
Skinn’s future is unclear. Offers begin to circulate during the summer months and he hopes his performance in the Olympics helps his stock rise.
It was easy for Skinn to forget his roots as he grew up in Maryland, but he said playing on the team has helped him embrace his heritage. His appearance made his mother, Juliana Tubi, especially proud. She is “getting phone calls from people she hasn’t talked to in years,” Skinn said
“She’s really proud of her son,” Skinn said. “. . . It’s probably even a bigger thing for her than it is for me.”