I have a very high allergic reaction to people who whine and complain about how they can’t have the life they want or achieve their dreams because of _________ fill in the blank. I think one of the key reasons has to be that I know what it is like to grow up on the other side of the tracks (especially in a rather harsh country like Nigeria), with absolutely no help but God’s grace.
In addition, where I have thought I had a right to get into a pity party, no one has been willing to cut me some slack, not even my family. (Lol!) So, excuse me, if my tolerance level for whining, complaints etc., is very low.
As we prepare to wrap up 2012, what only 7 days away from bringing in the new year?, I thought I would share this very inspiring story written about my brother by Andy Hui for Loyola Marrymount University, and republished with permission here on AML from the author.
After reading the article, and being reminded of some of the struggles my family and I have gone through, which the article touches on lightly, all that came up in my head was, “really, what’s your excuse?” Ultimately, our mindset determines the kind of lives we live and successes that comes our way. Be positive and have a “winning” attitude, like Ime Oduok, in all that you do and desire for yourselves.
Have a wonderful, beautiful and inspiring Christmas holiday. I will be back on Friday, 12/28/2012, to bid you all farewell until 2013.
Sending AML love to you all!
NOTE: Ime is now a realtor with Keller Williams Hermosa Beach Cities after retiring officially a couple of years now from playing professionally basketball. If you are interested in soliciting him for your real estate needs, please visit his website here: http://imeoduok.kwrealty.com/
Catching up with Ime Oduok by Andy Hui
Players from Africa are a common sight on college basketball courts these days, their skills on display from coast to coast at schools large and small. But that wasn’t the case in the summer of 1992, when Nigerian Ime Oduok first ventured onto the LMU campus in shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of well-worn sneakers in search of a pick-up game.
He played well that summer, which included competition against Division I players at Gersten Pavilion. So well, in fact, his impressed pick-up game compatriots urged the shy and raw 6-foot-9, 250-pound fledgling center to seek his future on the Lions’ basketball team. Oduok [pronounced OH-Dwok] drummed up his courage and asked an assistant coach for former head coach John Olive for a scholarship. After watching Oduok play, Olive took a chance and gave him the sole remaining scholarship he had.
The soccer-loving Oduok was a gifted athlete with natural talent, but still very much a work in progress as a basketball player. Since touching the ball with your hands is not allowed in soccer, Oduok had to overcome the tendency to move his hands away instead of grasping the ball. But he learned fast and developed into a beast on the court. Though he often ran into early foul trouble, the Lions were most productive when he was on the floor. When he played well, so did the Lions. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Oduok recorded three consecutive double-double games as a junior in 1994 – a feat that wasn’t to be repeated by an LMU player for another 11 years.
Growing up in Eket, Nigeria, Oduok first had been exposed to basketball by his brother-in-law who had visited the United States and learned about fellow basketball-playing Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon. When he first played in Nigeria, Oduok did not even have basketball shoes that fit so he occasionally played barefoot on the concrete courts. Much of his limited skills at the time were acquired through watching Olajuwon play in the NBA on local television.
The path taken by Oduok was certainly not the road well travelled. He came to live with his father in Westchester and enrolled at Division II Pacific Christian College in Fullerton. His attendance at PCC was a result of convenience more than anything else – his father worked in Fullerton which provided the means to commute to school. Though only playing basketball for a short time, PCC’s coach noticed Oduok’s size, which led to a roster spot as a backup center. Odouk averaged 7 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game, and helped his team reach the semifinals of the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament.
At LMU, the game was faster, the players bigger and more skilled, the crowds more rabid. But he was equal to the challenge. The difference in his game between his sophomore and senior years was remarkable. In a memorable road game against Hawaii, the headlines captured teammate Jimmy Williamson’s length of the court drive after a missed free throw to hit a buzzer-beating shot that won the game. In that game, Oduok quietly finished with 34 points, shooting 11 for 12 from the field and 12 for 15 from the foul line. That year, Oduok garnered WCC first team honors, joining former Santa Clara University, two-time NBA MVP, and current Los Angeles Laker guard Steve Nash, who was named Player of the Year. In his final home game against San Francisco, Oduok was emotional before the start. He told the LA Times: “I’ve come a long way and that was going through my mind. I may not be the greatest center, but I’ve given it my best, worked hard, and I’m happy with my career.” LMU was seeded third in the WCC tournament the following week, but was upset in the semifinal game and finished the season 18-11 overall, 8-6 in conference play. In his third season at the helm, Olive was named WCC coach of the year.
Oduok closed out his LMU career with two WCC first- team selections and a career that most former players could only have dreamed. He led the team in scoring (13.5 points a game) and rebounding (8.8 a game) in his final year (1995-96). Oduok is listed throughout the LMU record book. He is the all-time single season field goal percentage leader at 61.5 percent as well as the career leader at 59 percent. He is in the Top 5 for offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and blocked shots. Oduok also holds records for most free throws attempted in a game with 23 and is tied for 10th for the most rebounds in a game with 22.
Oduok’s late start playing organized basketball meant that he was just coming into his own as a complete player. His professional career was about to begin and it was obvious to many that his best basketball years were ahead of him. Though he went undrafted, he was invited to the Los Angeles Clippers pre-draft camp. After graduating in 1996 with a degree in Business Administration, Oduok became a basketball nomad, playing the majority of his 13-year professional career in Spain, with stops in Croatia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Poland, and one year in between with the Fort Wayne Fury of the Continental Basketball Association, which preceded today’s NBA Development League.
Oduok, who had always kept a home in Westchester even while playing overseas, returned for good after retiring from basketball. “When I stopped playing, I was undecided and didn’t know what I wanted to do going forward. By far, it was the hardest decision I had to deal with after knowing exactly what I would be doing for the last 13 years. At that point, I realized that basketball was only temporary and that I needed to recreate myself. Just as when I first started playing basketball, I relied on hard work and had to prove to myself again that I could do whatever I wanted so long as I put my mind to it and was committed. When I started playing basketball, I didn’t know my left hand from my right. But very quickly, I became knowledgeable and ended up being able to teach the game to others. My future would have to take a similar path.”
For the last five years, Oduok, 40, has worked as a real estate agent with Keller Williams Beach Cities Realty in Hermosa Beach where he specializes in commercial and residential properties in Santa Monica, South Bay, and the beach communities. The timing of his chosen profession was not necessarily the best, as Southern California and the rest of the nation entered into recession with the housing and real estate markets leading the way. However, those circumstances did not affect Oduok’s mindset or outlook. “Sure it was tough, but the challenges of the business world and competitive basketball are not much different, believe it or not,” says Oduok. “My first experiences playing basketball were difficult. However, I learned that you can catch up quickly and overcome most obstacles and shortcomings through hard work, regardless of the situation or circumstances. I knew the real estate business would be difficult, but it really didn’t phase me. Competition and, to a larger extent, survival were ingrained in me.”
His family’s story is a model of the American Dream. Shortly after coming to the U.S. from Nigeria, Oduok was separated from the rest of his family, living with his father in Westchester while his mother and three sisters lived in San Jose, Calif. Despite the separation, Oduok always held his family in high regard, especially his mother. With his professional basketball earnings, he bought her a house in nearby Tracy – a momentous occasion of which he is most proud. His three sisters also graduated from college – two are lawyers and the third is a high-tech entrepreneur.
While it may surprise some people, Oduok is also deeply spiritual. Oduok said he was raised by his parents to go to church, something he practiced even when he played overseas. He marveled at the rich spiritual culture all over the world, particularly in Spain, and says his spirituality has helped him become a stronger person. “I’ve lived a more enriched life in so many ways,” said Oduok. While playing in Spain for seven years, Oduok immersed himself in the culture and language, in which he is now both literate and fluent. Oduok also understands parts of other Romanic languages, including Portuguese, Italian and some French. His experiences off the court have also provided life perspective. While playing in Saudia Arabia, he developed a greater understanding of long-standing conflicts in the Middle East as events unfolded in real-life as opposed to watching them on television.
When LMU basketball games and his schedule allows, Oduok takes in home games from time to time. He can watch the next generation of African-born players wearing the crimson and navy. Current teammates Ayodeji Egbeyemi and Godwin Okonji from Lagos, Nigeria are two examples of LMU assistant coach Myke Scholl’s efforts to introduce basketball programs in Africa. Both have known Scholl since they were teenagers.
“I’m glad to see other African players at LMU,” Oduok says. “I was at a competitive disadvantage when I started playing basketball compared to my American peers. However, I learned that any disadvantage can be made up. There are no boundaries. You can catch up with hard work and long hours. It’s great that both Deji and Godwin started early in structured programs in Africa that focused on basketball fundamentals – dribbling, passing, and shooting. I am fortunate and grateful to have played at LMU.” Like the current players, Oduok was always respectful and had a wide smile.
LMU alumnus and Athletics Hall of Fame member Terry Buckley, Oduok’s long-time friend, said, “Ime was a gentle giant, yet tough as nails on the boards – a remarkable example of how the desire to be a complete player can overcome all the obstacles of not being exposed early on to the fundamentals of the game.” >That’s an admirable approach to the game of basketball – and the game of life.
Byline: This article used with permission from Andy Hui, a 1986 graduate of Loyola Marymount University and a contributor to LMULionsRoar.com. More of Andy’s features can be found at www.LMULionsRoar.com.
Photocredits: Ime Oduok, Andy Hui for LMU, K&M Ziolkowscy
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