ATHENS — Six years ago, Mark Fox began his career as the Georgia basketball head coach.
Six years ago, Osahen Iduwe, picked up a basketball for the first time in his life.
“That’s a little bit unusual,” Fox said of the 21-year-old sophomore forward. “Most guys in this country start when they’re younger. But he’s a wonderful kid. We had an NBA team here the other day to watch practice and the first person they asked about was Osahen because he just physically looks so big. And if he can catch up learning the game then he’ll give himself a great chance in life.”
At 15 years old, Iduwe walked into a local gym in his hometown of Benin City, Nigeria, where he saw “a bunch of tall guys” shooting hoops. Knowing he met the stature qualification, he joined in and asked them how to play. Once they all left, Iduwe didn’t realize that there was a woman still watching who was also a basketball coach.
He also did not realize at that moment his career in basketball was about to begin.
“I grabbed the ball and tried to do what they were doing, started dunking the ball,” Iduwe said. “The coach was, like, ‘wow, have you played basketball?’ And I was, like, ‘no, this is my first time.’ I just grabbed the ball and started dunking.”
Iduwe said he looks backs on that moment now frequently. After that, worked with a number of coaches in Nigeria before he joined the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation, which helps provide education opportunities to Nigerian student-athletes.
Iduwe’s life becamse somewhat of a blur after that. He went back and forth between America and Nigeria before finally moving in with a host family in the U.S. — The Crawfords of Birmingham, Ala. There, he began playing AAU basketball.
“When I was younger I never saw myself playing college basketball,” Iduwe said. “But when the dream came alive to me is when I come with the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation to America for AAU.”
Iduwe went to school in Birmingham for a year and then finished high school at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisc.
He eventually signed with the Bulldogs and arrived in Athens in 2014. He was assigned to live with former Georgia former Nemanja Djurisic and Kenny Paul Geno in an East Campus Village dormitory.
“It was always some kind of crazy language coming from that room,” Geno said with a laugh. “It would be late at night, and I guess it was just their native language of talking loud. I can remember being in my room, laying in bed, and I could hear Osahen and Nemi talking downstairs either to each other or their family from home either in Serbian or Nigerian and it’s loud. I’d stand up on my bed and jump down on the floor, just jump up and down as hard as I can, throwing golf balls at the floor just to make it loud for them so they knew I wanted to go to bed.”
Iduwe and Geno roomed together on the road last year, too, which yet again robbed him of sleep. Iduwe, accounting for the time difference, would Skype his family in Nigeria in the wee hours of the morning,
Iduwe said he makes it a point to stay in touch with his family in Nigeria as well as his host family in Birmingham. His two families represent very different parts of his life: his roots and his dream.
Where as his host family was able to take him in and give him the best opportunities to play basketball, Iduwe’s mom and siblings in Nigeria have a limited knowledge of basketball at all. They know only what they look up online to keep up with Iduwe.
“He’s very empathetic to the struggles of the people in his home country,” Fox said. “I think he’s extremely grateful for everything he has at Georgia and probably is more grateful than maybe a lot of kids because he knows what its like for people not to have all the perks that we get here.”
Being relatively new to the sport, Iduwe knows he has a bigger learning curve than most of his teammates, who have been playing basketball since early childhood. But Iduwe believes that as his ability grows in the sport, so will his ability to make a difference in the world. He said he feels as though he a representative of Nigeria.
“I think I can make a difference as a [player] and as a person when I finish out my dream,” Iduwe said. “I can see all these ideas and all this knowledge I get along the way playing basketball to impact what other kids do and when they see me, after all this, they might want to be like ‘wow. I want to be like him.’”