By Peter Akinbo.
For many who get into basketball, the NBA is the goal.
But 18-year-old Oluwatobiloba Olanrewaju from Lagos State isn’t pinned down by such ambitions, he consistently mentions that he just wants to grow while playing basketball anywhere and be an inspiration.
The point guard, who can also play as a shooting guard and small forward, spoke about how he started playing basketball after he was introduced to the game at 16 and then learnt by watching others play.
“I was inspired by a coach, he saw me and just asked me if I was interested in the sport, so from there I started playing and I started watching guys play and also picked up a few skills for myself, and then I fell in love with the game,” Olanrewaju told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“I learned by watching most of the time, so when I saw guys play and do cool moves, I got really excited, then probably after the game, when my friends and I worked out, I try and did some of the moves the guys did, but then, it was tough for me when I started at 16 because I didn’t have a mentor, so it was more of personal training. Now, with the two years of experience I have, I know I have gotten to the point where I can be called a proper basketball player.”
Now, Olanrewaju, who is studying Biochemistry at the Lead City University in Ibadan, has played in several competitions and has never failed to leave his mark.
“In Lagos, I played for Mark Spencer Academy in a lot of games; we played in different tournaments but when I got to Ibadan, my first big game was Interstate in the Basketball Rising Stars Championship in 2020 with the U-17, when I was 16. During that period, we got to the final and played against Lagos, but we lost by three points 73-70. We got the silver medal but I was mentioned as one of the top five players from the western region.
“Back in Lagos, there was a Diaspora League in 2021 and I came out as the All-Star and became seen as a recognisable prospect in Lagos too,” Olanrewaju said.
When asked about the goals as a basketball player, he told PUNCH Sports Extra that he would just like to grow in basketball.
“Well, everyone has dreams of playing in the NBA, but I am more focused on trying to achieve greater heights in the game. I don’t mind playing in the NBA or European League, as long as I am playing basketball and I know I am doing God’s will by inspiring a lot out there watching me play. My dreams are just to achieve greater heights and looking forward to becoming an inspiration and a leader,” he told PUNCH Sports Extra.
The teenager had to deal with a strict dad as he was learning from playing on the streets while he enjoyed support from his mother saying, “My dad is a very strict man, so he is not really the social type. He didn’t want me to mingle, so he wasn’t settled seeing boys playing ball on the streets, but my mum loved the fact that I am doing something I enjoy though.”
Olanrewaju describes his happiest moment as when he was able to impress during the training camp of former Chicago Bulls’ player Al-Farouq Aminu, who also plays for the national basketball team D’Tigers.
“It was during Aminu’s camp; he came to Ibadan in 2022, and it was my first time meeting an NBA star. I didn’t know he was the one because I don’t really watch the NBA that much because of the time difference. Some of my teammates in the camp were the ones who let me know; he took care of our accommodation and feeding throughout the camp.
“So, on the final day of the camp, during the All-Star game, Aminu was watching and I scored a three-pointer to finish the game and we won. I think he was amazed by what I did that day. And when they asked him who his MVP was for 2022, he said he was going to pick me. That was my happiest moment because I honestly never believed I would be recognised by a professional player, so, I was proud of myself,” he said.
One of Olanrewaju’s coaches, Dayo Emmanuel, said he invited him to join the team to represent Oyo State two years ago and he has never regretted it ever since.
“I met him two years ago and I loved his spirit. So, I invited him to join the Oyo State U-17 team, where he performed very well, I think in the first outing I took him to, he was among the Top 5 in the competition.
“He makes few mistakes, he is someone that pays attention and he is ready to learn on and off the basketball court. Potential wise, he is someone that will go far with practice and concentration. He is very skilled, the first time I saw him, I liked what I saw and since then I have never regretted having him on my team,” Emmanuel said.