The Basketball Dream of Qudus Wahab at 15 took him from Nigeria to U.S.

There’s a story to be told about Maryland’s gentle giant. A narrative about how, at the age of 15, he moved to the United States from Lagos, Nigeria, leaving behind his mother, twin brothers, and sister, all of whom had no formal basketball training.

Qudus Wahab, a junior forward for Maryland men’s basketball, is a quiet and reserved individual who takes time to come out of his shell. That’s why interim Terps coach Danny Manning encourages him to speak up in practice, and his former high school coach Ricardo Reed named him team captain his senior year at Flint Hill.

Settling in

Wahab was introduced to Duval Simmonds, a former assistant basketball coach at Virginia Academy, through friends who played overseas. They gave Simmonds a video of Wahab, at the time a frail 6-foot-10 adolescent, playing basketball on an outdoor court in Nigeria. Wahab, who had no coordination and only a few dribbling techniques, would dunk the ball into a broken-down basket.

They agreed to bring Wahab to the United States after Simmonds spoke with Wahab’s mother, Oludayo. Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, the school’s athletic director and basketball coach, assisted him in enrolling at Virginia Academy.

Wahab sought to find his way in a new country as he mastered the sport throughout the years. Wahab understands what it takes to follow a basketball ambition in America while earning a college degree, despite the fact that he hasn’t seen his family in six years.

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“It’s what I have to do,” Wahab said. “I just feel like it’s the sacrifice I have to make.”

“We felt obligated because we helped them get here, and we just wanted him to end up in a good situation,” said Simmonds, a former basketball player at Saint Joseph’s.

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Change of stay

Wahab had bad experiences with his first host family, so he moved in with Simmonds and has lived with them ever since. Simmonds accepted Wahab into his family a few years later.

“After speaking with his mom because he’s going to be here for a while, we will take care of him as if he were family. Socially, medically and athletically, she gave us permission to make those decisions on her behalf,” said Simmons.

Wahab had to change the way he looked at people in the United States — literally. The traditions of his new and old homes are not the same.

“Here in America, you call an uncle or someone senior by name, but it’s not like that in Nigeria. In Nigeria, when I talk to my parents, I don’t look them in the eyes. In America, you have to as a sign of respect. It was something I needed to adjust to,” said Wahab.

Adjusting to his new world

Wahab took several months to open up to Simmonds and his family. Wahab’s faith in them grew as he became more at ease, and they helped him feel accepted in America. Simmonds, who was born in Jamaica but raised his family in New Jersey, has treated Wahab as if he were a son, bringing him on family trips with his wife and two girls as Wahab has matured on and off the court.

Wahab has a talent for research, so if the tall forward doesn’t know anything, he’ll spend hours reading and studying it until he fully comprehends it.

“I think over this summer or the summer before, he spent hours just trying to learn finance or to learn how he can invest into stocks to the point where he was talking to me about it in the car, and I was telling him to shut up. “The kid is extremely smart,” Simmonds said.

Wahab’s eagerness to learn has served him well on the basketball court. He used the internet to view old basketball highlights in addition to learning about finances, and he trained for five to six days a week to be an impact player by the time he went to college.

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Wahab improved his dribbling skills to the point where he could hit mid-range jumpers and spin tricks. Wahab’s adjustment to life in the United States helped him adjust to subsequent adjustments. Wahab transferred to Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia, two years after attending Virginia Academy, where he grew even more comfortable living in a more crowded atmosphere.

“That was my first experience being at a big school. Before I didn’t talk at all. It wasn’t until I moved to Flint Hill [that] I started talking a little bit and feeling more accepted,” Wahab said of Flint Hill.

Wahab was a part of an advisory group at Flint Hill where his teacher had him and other students put together a band performance that involved him playing the drums in front of the school.

Reed said “it shocked everyone.”

“That’s him stepping out of character, doing something not expected. But as he became more acclimated and more confident on the floor, I believe it transferred to him being confident off the floor.” said Reed, who’s coached at Flint Hill for 17 years.

Playing professionally

Wahab was a defensive mainstay during his senior season in 2019, averaging a double-double while leading the Huskies to a conference championship. Wahab, a three-star prospect, chose Georgetown over Virginia Tech, LSU, Syracuse, and others in the end.

“He was a kid who affected the game defensively.” Rebounding, protecting the rim and blocking shots. But ultimately, through his steadfast commitment to working hard offensively, you [could] see him start to develop confidence,” Reed said.

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Before going to Maryland to play in the Big Ten Conference and battle against the nation’s best big men, Wahab spent two seasons at Georgetown, guiding the Hoyas to a Big East title and an NCAA tournament spot in 2020-21.

Wahab averaged 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds in ten games while shooting 59.7% from the field. Wahab compares Maryland to Flint Hill because his teammates have let him be himself.

“It’s just a matter of just adjusting, and getting familiar with the coaching staff, the community and the players. Once he does that, you will see him be a completely different person. I think I’ve seen [Wahab] laugh more in these past couple of months than at Georgetown,” Simmonds said

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Terps freshman forward Julian Reese said Wahab is mostly quiet but has his moments when he becomes an extrovert. Wahab has been a mentor for Reese, showing him footwork techniques and hand placements.

Danny Manning, a former star at Kansas and a 14-year NBA veteran, believes big men like Wahab are misunderstood. Manning, who is 6-10 himself, said it’s hard to be yourself because people sometimes assume that you are older and more experienced in life.

Wahab is constantly thinking about his family. Despite the fact that he has no intentions to visit Nigeria, he communicates with his mother on a daily basis via phone, FaceTime, and WhatsApp. Wahab believes that earning a degree will respect his mother and set an example for his siblings.

“That would be a great honor for me to pay back my mom for making that sacrifice and allowing me to come to the U.S.,” he said. “That would mean a lot to my family.”

Simmonds occasionally laughs when he recalls Wahab’s first highlight video.

“His best basketball is ahead of him,” he said.

Simmonds compares seeing Wahab develop into a valuable college player to watching a sculpture take shape over time. He believes Wahab hasn’t reached his full potential yet, but that when he does, Maryland will be a far superior team.

Source: The Baltimore Sun

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