Portland Trail Blazers basketball star Festus Ezeli, has told Nigerian youth to dream big and work hard to actualize their aspiration.
Ezeli, winner of the NBA title with Golden State Warriors in 2015, was the rallying point of this year’s Power Forward basketball clinic held at the indoor sports hall of MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja for students.
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, Olumide Oyedeji, said that he was seeing the kids in himself.
“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 foot 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 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 Hakeem Olajuwon and Chimney Ogwumike.
Students from 10 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.