Growing up in Nigeria, Solomon Alabi figured soccer was the sport for him.
Soccer is the main sport, the Idaho Stampede center said. All my brothers, all my friends played soccer. I tried, I tried, but I didnt have the speed the smaller guys do.
After a while, he turned his attention to basketball.
Not a bad idea.
They had a camp in Africa, and I got invited to the camp, Alabi said. They thought maybe I had skills.
This much was undeniable. He was tall.
Alabi, now 24, is listed at 7-foot-1, 252 pounds.
Stampede assistant coach Scott Williams, a longtime NBA big man, said Alabi is still learning how to best utilize his size on the basketball court.
Raw ability is exactly where he is still in his development as a player, Williams said. But what he does best is use his length around the basket. Whether its offensive put-backs or blocking and changing shots, thats been something hes been able to focus on and allowed him to get court time.
Alabi started his fourth game in a row for Idaho on Thursday night. He had six points and three rebounds in the Stampedes 109-104 loss to the Springfield Armor at CenturyLink Arena.
Its been a long journey from Nigeria to Idahos starting lineup.
He moved to Florida when he was 15 and had a successful high school career before playing two seasons at Florida State. He was taken with the 50th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, and then bounced back and forth between the Toronto Raptors and the NBA Development League.
The best game of his NBA career was April 26, 2012, when he scored 11 points and pulled down 19 rebounds in a 98-67 win over the New Jersey Nets.
Hes shown flashes of that production with Idaho, but the coaching staff brought him along slowly after acquiring him Dec. 28. His minutes have gone up in recent games because of an injury to the teams leading rebounder, Sean Evans.
Coach Mike Peck said Alabi has responded well to the added responsibility.
As a starter, hes more engaged, Peck said. So we probably have to figure out a way to keep him in that rotation. Solomon is still young, and its a process.
Alabi understands that, too.
I feel like theres still a lot of improvement ahead of me, said Alabi, who has led the Stampede in rebounding five times.
Hes a model for what this league is about, Williams said. Hes a younger player that has talent and needs to develop his skills.
And while Alabi is doing that on the basketball court, Peck said he has to remind himself that his young player is also still adapting to a different culture and language.
With all the American guys, we all have something in the States we refer to as home, Peck said. For Sol, when he talks about home, thats eons and miles and light years away. Thats tough, I dont care how old you are.
Alabi returns to visit his family in Nigeria in the summertime. He relishes the time he gets to spend with his parents, three brothers and two sisters.
Im just home, he said. I like going back and visiting my family and friends.
Theres another perk, too.
I get to eat my traditional food, he said. Its tough here. I wish I could get that food here. But I do enjoy it when I go back home.
You could say that Alabi lives in two worlds. And, food aside, he appreciates both of them.
Ive had the opportunity to play a lot of basketball, he said. And I had the opportunity to go to school and get an education and help my English. My English is a lot better now. Its a great opportunity here, and Im thankful for it.
GAME NOTES: Durrell Summers led Idaho (10-20) with 24 points. He had a chance to tie the game with a long 3-pointer in the final seconds, but the shot rimmed out and Springfield hit its free throws down the stretch for the win. Coby Karl had 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Kris Joseph led the Armor (11-21) with 27 points.