For Faruk Oyalade, basketball was not his first love. With an background in soccer in Nigeria, and having earned a brown belt in Karate, Oyalade chose to apply those learned skills and practiced agility in the new sport of choice, which was further fueled by a rapid growth spurt. In a three-year span, he shot up five inches to his current 6 foot 7 inch height.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was 15,” says Oyalade. “I was 6′ 2″. I was playing soccer in Junior High. So my friends said, ‘Why don’t you play Basketball?’ And my brothers play basketball. So my first year, I played. I started quickly growing at age 19. I grew about five inches really fast. Everybody was a bit surprised.”
Currently playing for the men’s basketball team, the Nigerian-born Pasadena City College freshman looks forward to continuing his education here in the United States.
“In Nigeria, soccer is the number one sport,” said Oyalade. “[But] since basketball, I am kind of like passionate. There aren’t many people playing basketball in Nigeria. So I attended the Junior National when I was 15 in South Africa in 2006, and we won the championship. And we won the Gold Medal. That was my first MVP. After that, I started playing basketball everyday.”
A native of Port HarcourtNigeria, Oyalade obtained an education visa for the next two years, choosing computer science as his major here at PCC. Although he wanted to come to the United States sooner, as his father wanted him to finish High School first. Thereafter. But he was immediately able to get his first I-20 visa for 3 years, beginning with Bishop McNamara in Maryland. Then he participated in “Basketball Without Borders” in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“I have been in the U.S. for about a year and two months now,” Oyalade said. “I have a student visa for two years and as long as I am in school. I am planning on transferring to any division one school – any four year college.”
A graduate of Amazing Grace High School in Nigeria, the Lancers center is currently averaging 7.1 points and ranks fifth in the division in rebounds.
Oyalade lives in Riverside with his aunt, Grace Apiafi, a professor of natural sciences at PCC, where he commonly makes the 50-mile commute via train and bus transfer.
It was Apiafi who brought Oyalade to PCC during basketball practice, where head coach Michael Swanegan first saw his skills as a ball player.
“Coach saw me play for the first time last summer,” said Oyalade. “My aunt brought me to the school and I was given a chance to play practice with the players. And he was like ‘Oh, I think he’s good. I think he’ll be a promising player for the school’. That’s how I got in the school.”
Oyalade’s experience in martial arts exhibited his grace and agility, which was clearly observed by Swanegan.
“He tells me he’s a better soccer player than he is a basketball player,” said Swanegan. “He grew up playing soccer. And that usually gives [him] a better balance, because he uses his feet. He loves soccer, but he’s playing basketball, so that tells you that he has a passion about the game.”
When asked if his Nigerian student had a good chance of making it to pro ball, the Lancer coach just smiled.
“I would never even comment on someone getting on that level,” said Swanegan. “You know, because there’s so many – so many good players out there.”
During his time at PCC, Oyalade has faced a few injuries, which he has taken in stride.
“Injuries don’t bring me down,” said Oyalade. “I have had some injuries, but I didn’t even tell my coach. He didn’t even know, but I still play with it because there’s a saying that when you’re determined to go somewhere, you don’t have to look back at it, you just play with it.”
Despite the joys of playing basketball, Oyalade misses his friends and family in Nigeria. Thanks to his other passion, computer technology, he communicates frequently with them via Facebook and on Skype.
And although he loves a good cheeseburger, in addition to missing his family, Oyalade misses the native food of his country.
“I miss my mom’s food,” Oyalade said. “We have a traditional [dish] we call Garri, and Egusi Soup. The soup is made with ground Cassava, seeds of melon and vegetables and meat or chicken or fish. You dip your hand into the Garri and you put it on the soup.”
Recalling additional fond memories of how he was encouraged in his home country, Oyalade said he would like to return the favor.
“I’m definitely planning to go back, “ said Oyalade. “I miss my family. So I’m planning to go back to see my family and friends and to work. Even if I play pro basketball, I will still go back and share with the young ones. I want to still go back and run a camp for the young ones over there.”
Pleased, but not surprised by this information, Coach Swanegan again smiled with pride at his student’s desire to encourage others.
“I think it is great that he would want to go back to his country and help his people to understand what it’s like to play basketball in America,” Swanegan said. “You know, we are the epitome of basketball in the United States. There are so many countries playing basketball right now, that it’s – it’s unbelievable. With his country, it would be a good thing. I mean, I would like to go back there. “
Much like his coach – relaxed and ready for the pending away game – Oyalade speaks with calm and confidence in regards to his plans on giving any future advice.
“The advice I’d want to give young players is that basketball is a means of education. You play basketball, [but] you have to still stay in school. You just use basketball as a means. That’s my message to all the young players.”
“There’s players that just think about basketball, they don’t think about education,” Oyalade observed. “In the long run you might have an injury or something that can make you not play pro basketball, so you have to look forward to your education. I came [to the United States] because of basketball, but my main aim is to get an education…to get educated.”
But when faced with the choice of being offered a pro basketball position and getting a four year degree, Oyalade was clear.
“Well, if that opportunity comes before then, I’ll decide to play pro ball,” said Oyalade. I want to be a pro ball player. That’s my dream.”