End of December in Budapest: Christmas lights, festive food and tourists, probably not the ideal to find future basketball talents. So it is with low expectations that I visit the game of the U14 team (year 2003) of an otherwise quite well-known Hungarian club called ALBA Szekesfehervar. Although their senior team is in the Hungarian top five that once included the ex-Lakers Greg Somogyi, their youth team was not that brilliant. Once the team appears, I immediately notice their one and only black player – the guy is literally head and shoulders above the entire competition. He looks thin and raw, but still strong; he seems to be familiar with outside play: his dribbling and throws are good, he runs the floor very well for his size. Skills, intelligence and discipline and – of course – coordination and strength need further improvement, but the potential is there, Sodiq Awogbemi has a lot to build on that others of his age haven’t or may never have.
A slender African center in a team of Hungarian schoolboys, however, still continues to puzzle me – so I approach him after the game to find out more.
First thing I notice is his size – a man among children.
“I am 6’9” (206cm) without shoes (size 16 sneakers in case you are interested) and about 211 lbs (96kg)” - he says – “but I need to put on more weight and muscles” – adds Sodiq to prevent my next question. He looks so mature that I check his ID to ensure the giant born on 29 November 2003 is indeed a boy who just turned 13.
“I come from Nigeria and arrived in Hungary about three months ago, signed a contract with ALBA and played with them ever since. Soon after my arrival, we have made it into the final eight and won the Hungarian U14 tournament” – says Sodiq proudly. “Since then I am constantly playing with older guys, U16; U17-18 and even in senior division B teams. I am practicing twice a week with four expert-coaches, it’s a tough work: I started to play serious basketball only here in Hungary beside learning the language and going to a Hungarian school.”
“He was literally found on the streets of Nigeria” – adds his advisor. “We have been trying to add size to Hungarian basketball by recruiting tall players from the Congo and Nigeria when someone spotted Sodiq playing on the streets with his friends. He had never played organized basketball before – “streetball” taught him everything he knew. He developed great instincts but obviously lacked proper education, he had amazing physical potentials, a great body, good hands and strong enthusiasm to get to pro level – exactly what we were after.”
He is tall and mature, he is now in mid-puberty so he will probably not get much beyond 6’11” or 7’. His body is full of potentials – a Christmas tree yet to be decorated, and it is only up to him and his coaches to determine what finally becomes of him.
“I certainly need confidence and discipline, I want to grow out of being an “easy goer” and learn to focus and fight to develop into a professional and play in the Hungarian U16 team and then in Europe and maybe in the US, too.”
We can only hope that Hungary can provide him with all what he needs and guide him to this promising journey.
By Peter Toth