By Peter Akinbo.
Few basketball prospects can boast of squaring up against their national teams at the age of 13, but for Abel Offia, who turned 18 on February 14, 2023, this opportunity came just a year after he started playing the sport.
The Edo-born basketball athlete revealed to PUNCH Sports Extra that his love for the game was influenced by a female basketball player he met at a court in Benin.
“I started basketball when I was in Benin at 12 years old. I saw a lady playing basketball, so I went there to see what was happening. Normally, when you see a lady doing something, you just want to go there and join, and that, she actually beat me in the game and I was shocked,” he said.
“Then I started going there every day after school, then I saw the coach of the court there and one day he called me and said why not just join the team and go for competitions with them. Then I started training with them and before you know it, I came to love the game and that is how I started playing basketball.”
There is a popular saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, the SS3 student at Topfield Secondary school narrated how he took the bold step of following a friend, who was invited to an academy in Lagos from Benin in 2018 when he was just 13 and got the chance to play against the D’Tigress.
“A friend of mine was going to Lagos from Benin to play for a basketball academy, and I told him I would follow him, I just wanted to go out and play basketball. He was reluctant to agree because he wasn’t sure the coach would accept since he had told him he was coming alone. I said when we got there, I would tell him I could play too,” he told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“When we came there, the Raptors academy was playing the national female team, the coach then gave me a jersey and said I should join the players and he was impressed by what I did and allowed me to stay in one of the accommodations he got for the players.”
Although they lost that game to the more experienced Nigeria female basketball players, the shooting guard learned from that experience and went on to start a winning streak although it was still not an easy journey.
“I won the Police basketball competition and the Rookies competition in 2018 when I played with the Raptors academy. In 2019, we qualified for the league and we made it to the finals which shocked everyone, and we played against River Hoopers, but we lost in the finals,” Offia said.
“We took the first position in ‘Mark the Ball’ tournament when I played for Customs, and I also played for them in the Premier League and we came out second, I have come second previously with Raptors too and the next time, I am eyeing a win with the River Hoopers who are my current team.”
Offia sometimes reminisces on the loss in the finals in 2019 against his current team and almost cries.
“There are some moments that I have almost shed tears. Last year in the Premier League, when we played against Kwara Falcons in the finals and lost, it was very painful when after making it all the way there and just one game cost us the ticket to the league,” he said.
The 18-year-old dreams of representing Nigeria at the national level and hopes for a chance to get into the National Basketball Association saying, “My goals are to represent the country at the national level and also play pro in the NBA, pursue a career and get a degree.”
It is inspiring to hear success stories of people who started their business initially from the family.
When you also have the family support in the starting, your career takes off swiftly. Well, some people fall on the other side and struggle a lot to establish trust with the previous generation folks.
The young athletes opened up on how his father was initially against his choice of career.
“When I started playing basketball, my dad did not really support the move and he was even part of the reason why I left Benin for Lagos for that academy. He used to mount pressure on me then because he did not want me to play basketball, he is late now but before he died, when he started seeing how well I could play, he told me he was proud of me,” Ofia said.
Inspired by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Ofia says he likes how the four-time NBA champion creates, “The person that inspires my basketball is Curry. I like how he can create shooting opportunities for himself and for his teammates and I really like his step-back shots.”
Speaking with PUNCH Sports Extra, Raptors Academy coach, Charles Ibeziako said he was confident that the youngster would rise to the top.
“I met him six years ago and when I saw him, I knew that he was a prospect; I met him at a camp in Benin City. Sometime later, my team had a friendly match against the Nigerian female team and they always prefer to use the academy to prepare themselves and we were the ones getting them ready and their coach would want us to play them hard,” Ibeziako told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“I invited his friend and he came along. From the match, I could see that he was very good with the way he handled himself and the decisions he made on the court at that age.
“I lived in America for a long time and I have trained a lot of people that became professional basketball players and some are even in the NBA so I can say that Abel is a fantastic NBA candidate, if he gets there, he is going to play special basketball.”