Dapo Sotuminu, Abuja
Former Golden State Warriors basketball star, Nigeria-born Festus Ezeli, has told youths at the 2019 edition of the Power Forward basketball programme for schools in Abuja in partnership with the National Basketball Association, USA, Exxon Mobil and Africaire, to capitalize on the opportunity of the programme to fulfil their life long dreams.
Ezeli, who was a member of the NBA title winning team of Golden State Warriors in 2015, said at the Package B of the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja that, he was just like the young students some years ago until he grew up to become a worldclass basketball star of international repute with dedicated focus on his education.
He urged the students from the 22 schools in Abuja who participated in the Power Forward initiative, to focus on their education as they also develop interest in basketball.
The sixth edition of the programme was organised by ExxonMobil, Africare and NBA was a youth engagement initiative that used basketball to develop health, leadership and life skills among Nigerian youths.
Ezeli, who was joined by former captain of the Nigerian national basketball team, and an NBA legend, Olumide Oyedeji.
The NBA champion said: “I did not believe in myself at a time. I want to give the kids the dream that they can do what they want to do. It is one step; they learn education and leadership through basketball,” the 6.11 feet centre, who expressed his desire to represent Nigeria at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, said.
He recalled that he became a success story because, even though he was not considered good enough to play top class basketball in college, someone believed in him and gave him a basketball for the first time at the age of 16.
“I see myself in the kids. Fifteen years ago, when I was 14 years old, somebody believed in me, gave me a basketball for the first time. And when I was 16 somebody believed in me and helped me work towards my dream”.
He said he was impressed with the talent displayed by the kids at the clinic, noting that I was remarkable as some of them had only played basketball for one year.
“I was here in Nigeria 15 years ago and made it back as an NBA champion. I did not know what basketball was, someone helped here out and this is my way of giving back.”
He lauded the Power Forward programme as a massive influence on basketball in Nigeria, adding he was informed about the scheme by Nigeria’s NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon and WNBA star Chimney Ogwumike.
In the grand finale of the event held at the Indoor Sports Hall of the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, Government Secondary School, Karu defeated Total Child Model Schools, Dutse, 22-12 to win the Girls title in the Power Forward Basketball competition. Abigail Ornah of the Government Secondary School, Karu was voted the Most Valuable Player in the Girls competition.
In the Boys final, Total Child Model School, Dutse lost to the team from Government Secondary School, Karu, with the Most Valuable Player award carted away by Edward Sambo of the GSS, Karu, giving the school one hundred percent results in the basketball challenge.
The Exxon Mobil Medial theme for last year was Menstrual Health, while this year’s theme is “Zero Malaria” starts with me. All the students present at the stadium were tested for malaria.
There was also a Quiz competition between Raberto School and Rahinna School. The Raberto School came out tops winning the quiz competition. The winners went home with a cash reward of N200,000 to be used for a Malaria project in 2020.
The students were treated to great musical entertainment by soar away Nigerian singer, Teni, who thrilled the young crowd. After singing, she also took to the basketball court to convert some free throws from the free throw mark all to the delight of the youthful crowd.
Students from 22 Abuja secondary schools participated in the Power Forward basketball league. Overall, over 2,000 students including 1,100 direct beneficiaries and 900 peer influencers in 30 schools in Abuja have passed through the programme to date.
It was inaugurated in Abuja on November 19, 2013 with a tip off event featuring NBA and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) representatives, Nigerian policy makers and personalities.