FOR someone who had been in the eye of the storm even before the 88th NCAA men’s basketball season could start, making it all the way to the Finals is, indeed, a gratifying experience for Ola Adeogun.
The rookie big man of San Beda, who started the season on the bench while serving out a four-game suspension, has found a measure of redemption after powering the Red Lions past the University of Perpetual Help Altas, 56-52, in Saturday’s Final Four at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-7 Nigerian torched the Altas for 23 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and a near-perfect 11-of-12 from the foul line. He also grabbed 14 rebounds in the win that sealed the two-time defending champion’s seventh straight appearance in the best-of-three title series.
“This is a very good reward for me,” said the marketing student, a central figure in the offseason brawl at the San Beda gym between the Red Lions and members of San Sebastian men’s volleyball team that also led to the two-season ban for former coach Frankie Lim and suspensions to other teammates.
Adeogun said he was left traumatized by the experience, but has finally put it behind him.
“The problem that I got into (before the start of the season) really affected my game. I couldn’t focus, I was really struggling,” he added. “All I wanna do is play because that’s what gives me joy and happiness.”
“Whatever happened with the NCAA board before, I don’t have problem with that. I’ve forgotten everything. I’ve let the incident go. I’m okay now,” added the Nigerian.
Like fellow Nigerian and San Beda player Sam Ekwe before him, Adeogun first played football before shifting to basketball when he was in high school. The game has since opened doors for the 21-year-old.
“Everybody in Africa wants to play soccer, wants to become a soccer star,” he said. “But basketball is fun, it gave me a lot of opportunity. I want to go to school and basketball gave it to me. I like to travel abroad, and basketball gave it to me.”
It was former Talk `N Text coach Bill Bayno who introduced him to Lim when the American saw him playing in the popular NBA camp `Basketball Without Borders’ in Africa.
He first arrived in the country in 2009 at the height of typhoon Ondoy, describing the incident as "sobrang grabe."
Through his close friends and the help of the San Beda community, Ageodun has learned to speak and understand the native language. Former San Beda courtside reporter EJ Gamboa even gave him an English-Tagalog dictionary to help him quickly adapt to the Filipino way of life.
“I can understand. Ano ang gusto mong sabihin ko? You can speak to me in Tagalog,” he said with a smile while talking to Spin.ph. More so, according to him, if it involves Tagalog bad words, adding, "Madami (akong alam). I learned that first.”
The Nigerian has also tried all sorts of Filipino food, including balut, but did not find dinuguan to his liking, saying it looked "nasty."
But playing in the Finals is one challenge Adeogun said he’ll never back out of as he focuses on his mission to lead the Red Lions to a third successive championship.
“We still have a Finals to play and all I wanna do is prepare for it and stay focused,” he stressed.