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Norcross' Aminu helps Nigerian basketball team into Olympics

With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games less than a month away, a fifth former Gwinnett County athlete has earned his way to London.

Unlike swimmers Eric Shanteau and Amanda Weir, hammer thrower Kibwe Johnson and women's basketball player Maya Moore, former Norcross men's basketball standout Al-Farouq Aminu won't be competing for the United States team.

Instead, the 6-foot-9 New Orleans Hornets forward will represent Nigeria after helping that country's national team claim one of three remaining berths in the Olympics during the FIBA qualifying tournament last week in Caracas, Venezuela.

While Aminu isn't the first former Norcross player to compete in the Olympics -- former Blue Devils point guard Jangy Addy competed in the decathlon event in track and field for Liberia in the 2008 games in Beijing -- he is the first to do so in basketball.

"We're all very excited for him," Norcross boys coach Jesse McMillan said. "He had a huge role (for the Nigerian team) in everything on the floor (during the qualifying tournament). We're extremely proud of him."

Aminu and his older brother, former Georgia Tech forward Alade Aminu, both qualified to play for Nigeria due to their family's ancestry.

"Farouq came by here about two and a half months ago and mentioned (he'd be trying out for the Nigerian team)," McMillan said. "He said it really hadn't crossed his mind until his agent mentioned it to him. With the deadlines involved, he had to pursue it rigorously."

And the 2008 Daily Post Boys Player of the Year, who helped Norcross to Class AAAAA state titles his junior and senior seasons before going on to a one-year college career at Wake Forest and on to the NBA, played a major role in Nigeria third-place finish at the FIBA qualifying tournament.

Aminu averaged 13.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, both second on the team, and added an average of 2.4 assists, a team-best 1.8 blocked shots and 1.0 steals per game as Nigeria went 3-2 in the weeklong tournament, including an 88-73 win over the Dominican Republic in Sunday's third-place game that gave the west African nation its first trip to the Olympics.

His best outing was a 16-point, nine-rebound game in Nigeria's 86-80 win over LIthuania in group play, which moved the team into the championship round.

Aminu and Team Nigeria now await the start of the Olympic tournament with their opening game against Tunisia on July 29.

It won't be an easy task for the team to earn its way into the medal round, as the group also includes the United States team, plus teams from Argentina, France, Lithuania and Tunisia.

But McMillan sees at least one bright side to the draw Aminu and the Nigerians face in being grouped with the American team -- at least, one for those of his family and friends in Norcross.

"Maybe we'll at least be guaranteed to see one of their games (live on television)," McMillan said. "And only 12 teams get a chance to play in the Olympics."