July 15, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
THE FLATS – Alade Aminu knows it’s special that he’s about to become just the third former Georgia Tech basketball player to compete in the Olympics, but the truth is he’s more energized by the fact that he’s about to be one of the first to do something else.
He made the Nigerian national squad, and recently helped that team pass through a qualifying tournament to earn an Olympic bid for the first time in that nation’s basketball history. Add the fact that his younger brother, former Wake Forest standout Al-Farouq Aminu, also is on the Nigerian squad and you’ve got quite a summer backdrop.
No wonder Aboy Aminu is walking on air; two of his boys have made history in his native land.
“My father is speechless. He’s been calling every Nigerian friend he knows,” Alade said. “He’s like a really, really proud dad. He gets to walk around Nigeria with his chest up. This is the first time . . . it’s an incredible feeling.”
Aminu’s father moved away from his family a few years ago to work out of state, and now lives chiefly in New Orleans where Al-Farouq is a member of the NBA’s Hornets.
Were it not for Al-Farouq, whom Tech recruited passionately a few years ago, Alade wouldn’t be about to head to London to join Stephon Marbury (2004) and Chris Bosh (2008) as former Yellow Jacket basketball players-turned Olympians.
Alade was late to the sport of basketball, and scarcely recruited. By the time he was a senior on The Flats, his skill set had nearly caught up with his physical tools (he’s 6-feet-11 with a wingspan of more than 7 feet, and he’s fairly agile) as he averaged 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds for Tech as a part-time starter.
He was un-drafted by the NBA, and in 2009-10 spent time in the D-League with Erie and Bakersfield, and even had a brief stint with the Miami Heat.
Then, off to France.
Alade spent the past two seasons with Elan Chalon in the French Pro A League. That squad, based in Chalon-sur-Saone in east-central France, joined a short list of French squads in capturing a triple crown this past season. Aminu averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds as a power forward/center as Elan Chalon won the French Championship, the Semaine des As (a significant tournament) and the French Cup.
France has been nice, but it’s also been a grind and not exactly what Alade has in mind. So, last month he returned to metro Atlanta in search of a spot in NBA Summer League action because, after all, “The main objective is to get back into the NBA.”
Al-Farouq had a very different idea. Little brother did some recruiting.
“I just came back from France, and I was ready to take a break . . . relax and lay down,” Alade said. “I was tired; it was a long 10 months. My brother said, ‘No, come out for the national team. It’s a once in a lifetime thing.’ “
There were some technical difficulties. Aminu had to travel to Washington, D.C., to straighten out some details pertaining to his visa, and then he joined the Nigerian national team for work in Houston and Brazil.
Finally, a trip to Caracas, Venezuela, was for their real business.
It took a couple upsets for L’Tiger to qualify for what turned out to be the final spot in the Olympics – in Group A with the USA by the way.
Nigeria upset Greece in the semifinals, and then last weekend surprised the Dominican Republic (which included Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford) to earn the trip. Ike Diogu, who has some NBA experience, scored 25 points in that game to lead the way.
“I’m kinda happy because my brother and I made history,” Alade said. “It’s been a dream year for me.”
Aminu dreams, too, of one day returning to finish work on his degree at Tech as several former Jacket hoopsters have. He said that he’ll need to spend another term or two in class to get that done.
First, he’s got that NBA plan to get back to later this summer, and before that he has a few more appointments in London.
The Nigerian team has some size, more in fact that the American squad, and many players were born in the USA and/or played collegiate ball in the United States.
“I’m ready to go at the USA team. I think it’ll be a great experience, and not just to go against the U.S. Team,” Alade said. “The impact on Nigeria when we did make it into the Olympics was incredible; 120 million people rejoiced.”
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