• Kaunda Chama

A fulfilling trip home for Festus Ezeli

Nigerian-born NBA champion Festus Ezeli has spent the past couple of days in Nigeria, his country of birth, on a mission to be part of shaping some of the continent's future leaders.

The former Golden State Warriors center is in the west African state as part of the international contingent participating in Power Forward, a youth development initiative by the NBA, oil giant ExxonMobil, and international NGO Africare.

The program uses basketball and other techniques to teach health literacy (malaria prevention and hygiene promotion) and life skills.

Ezeli says that he is committed to positively impacting the lives of Nigerian youths as well as giving his time and sharing his experiences and expertise with the people of the country.

“I have urged the youth at this development camp to never give up on their dreams or their chosen career, no matter how impossible success may seem at times,” he said.

When addressing the Power Forward attendees, Ezeli spoke about the importance of sport and basketball in particular in imparting life skills in the Youth, emphasizing how much it has helped shape his life from a young Nigerian boy that had never properly bounced a Basketball to playing the sport at the highest level.

He was born in Nigeria in 1989, and moved to the United States at age 15 and started playing basketball at age 16. “I first got into the game as a teenager and within six I was playing professionally in the NBA. That is testament to the fact that nothing is impossible,” Ezeli noted.

He was the 30th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft (drafted by the Golden State Warriors with whom he spent five seasons), won a championship with the Warriors in 2015 and also participated in the inaugural NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg, South Africa the same year.

Ezeli commented: “It was a no brainer for me to come back to my country of birth and share the knowledge I have acquired over the years with these kids. It is great to be here talking about issues such as public health and education. I want to show the youth of this country that whether they want to play basketball or pursue another career altogether, anything is possible in life. One of the Presidents of the future could be in this room right now.”

He commended the Power Forward initiative and its stakeholders for using Basketball as a tool to grab the youths' attention and then also exposing them to other important issues in life like healthy lifestyle choices.

“Basketball taught me a lot of things, it helped me get leadership skills, it helped me get an education. I also want to be able to help these kids see the potential for them to have the same opportunities I had,” Ezeli said.

This year’s edition of Power Forward, which is the sixth, not only featured Ezeli but also mentoring sessions with former captain of the Nigeria Basketball national team Olumide Oyedeji.

Students from 10 secondary schools participated in the basketball initiative's final tournament which is said to have trained over 2000 students including 1100 direct beneficiaries and 900 peer influencers from 30 schools in Abuja.

The initiative, in previous years, has been visited by the likes of NBA Legend and two-time champion Hakeem Olajuwon, Los Angeles Sparks star forward Chiney Ogwumike, and Jerome “Junk Yard Dog” Williams.

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