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From Nigeria to UCLA, Adam Bona’s next move could be the NBA

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His Nigerian name means the power of God. Spreading joy to others may be his greatest gift.

That is, of course, unless you’re wearing the other team’s jersey.

During UCLA’s victory over USC this monthAnd Bruins thwarted big man Trojan horses twice in an eight second period. First, he was stepping up to block a Kobe Johnson lies down. Then he would get the better of the defense to dunk A.J Campbell Fabrics lob.

College basketball, meet Adam Bona – I’m Not Afraid (Official Music Video).

He won’t be around much longer if he continues to play like this.

“The fans are chanting, ‘It’s the SC game and I’m glad our biggest rival, my first time playing it,'” the 6-foot-10 freshman center breathlessly said of his favorite game since his first two-and-a-half months playing the Bruin. “I’m excited, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ “”

Everywhere Poona goes is his happy place.

He weaves a joyful path inside Pauley Pavilion, his long arms raised above his head and a wide smile crossing his face as he waves to the students during the pre-game roll call. He slaps his hands with his teammates, punches his chest as part of an introductory video shown on the scoreboard and cracks that grin again, as if it were a requirement for him to wear the four letters on his chest.

After the outbreak of the rally in the second half against Colorado last weekendBona stayed on the field to hug the student principals in a group hug, everyone clinging on tightly to save food for the time being.

“It’s like a percentage of CEOs in terms of behavior and energy level; it’s really hard to find.” UCLA coach Mick Cronin He said. “When you see someone who is this positive, energetic, and always has a smile, it stands out because the rest of us don’t.”

The smile is a tribute to the mother who guided the Bona family through tragedy while offering her joy from afar, and breaks into gospel songs when they talk on the phone.

“I would say,” Bona said on the eve of Game 5 against the Bruins Arizona Thursday night at the Desert Financial Arena, “I’m a copy of my mom.”

The big guy might not have gone anywhere in basketball if he didn’t have to go.

Stepping outside his mother’s Nigerian shop to use the roadside as a toilet several years ago, the 13-year-old, about 6-7 years old, was towering over the car he was using as a cover.

A local basketball player passing by, close to the boy’s height, asked if he was into the sport. No, the boy who then went by his name, Ikechoku, told him he played soccer like everyone else in the country.

It was this chase that gave the boy his super speed and made him challenge everyone he faced to races he knew he was likely to win.

Undeterred, the player followed the boy to his mother’s store. The shop in Lagos was taken over by Udu Chinyere from her late husband, Chikaodiri Okoro, where she sold food and traded commodities. Okoro, known as the “Big Elephant” because of his size and manhood, died before Ikechoku was born as the last of five siblings.

The boy grew up playing soccer every day at school, near his home and even on holidays, but now this strange guy was promoting another sport. His mother was hesitant. She asked how much she would pay for her son to play basketball.

“When you see someone who is this positive, energetic, and always has a smile, it stands out because the rest of us don’t.”

— UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin on Adam Bona

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UCLA’s Adam Bona shoots at Washington’s Braxton Meh during the Bruins’ 74-49 victory on Jan. 1.

(John Frochauer/The Associated Press)

Nothing, the man told her. He would teach the boy, showing him the basics during weekend practice sessions. Bona’s two older brothers, pointing to their brother’s sprouted tire, pleaded with their mother to let him give the new try. Approved.

It was the beginning of a journey that would take Bona from his home country to Turkey to Napa to Los Angeles, an emerging possibility going places he had never imagined before.

“I thought I was going to be a professional football player,” said Bona, who could only be months away from being selected in the NBA draft.

Weekend training sessions and streetball games would only take the teen so far. He needed advanced instruction and better competition if he wanted more than to immerse himself in his new sport.

About a year after he was discovered on the side of the road, he hit the road. Moving with his mother to Turkey, where they both adopted new names in reference to the local culture, Bona honed his training technique for a few years before being invited to join the national team.

His next opportunity came via a recent Instagram marvel. Program directors from Prolific Prep in Napa have messaged him through the social media platform, asking if he would be interested in coming to play with them.

Initially reluctant, Poona needed a nudge from his mother. She knew that this would be the next logical step in his football career, even if it meant he would have to drop her out for his last two years of high school.

Prolific prep Adem Bona in a match against Link Academy.

Adem Bona (34) of Prolific Prep vs. Link Academy is shown during a high school game on January 17, 2022, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

(Gregory Payne / Associated Press)

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He said goodbye and boarded a plane to another country where he did not know anyone. Paired with a host family, Puna quickly befriended everyone he met, his bright smile being his greatest asset.

Billy McKnightwho coached Bona for his final season at Prolific Prep, reminded him to celebrate a big win over his teammates even though he didn’t play due to injury.

“He’s going to make a mark on the kids he plays with and the coaches he plays with no matter where he goes,” said McKnight, “because of his personality and how hard he plays and the quality of personality he has.”

With some of the top college programs in the country, including Kansas and Kentucky, Bona was torn again about his future. As usual, the mom knew best, pointing him towards UCLA.

“She was thinking of it as a win-win situation for me,” Bona said, saying, “You have one of the best schools in the world just for basketball, and academically, you can’t turn it down. I was like, ‘Yeah, Mom.'”

Blessed with the largest wingspan (7-foot-4), largest hands (10.25 inches) and largest foot (a size 17) on the Bruins, Bona has had an impact in recent weeks that cannot be measured for a team that won 13 straight games, the longest streak in the country among a team. major conferences.

He made the go-ahead basket in a comeback victory over Washington State, grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds against USC and shook his team out of a long haul with his solid play on both ends of the court in the second half against Colorado.

“This guy is incredible, man.” UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. He said of a teammate who was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week twice in a row. “He runs, deflects shots, comes down to the other end of the earth and dunks at people. I mean, what more could you ask of a big guy?”

UCLA player Tyger Campbell, Adem Bona, and Jaime Jaquez Jr.  On the field during the second half against USC.

UCLA linebackers Tyger Campbell (10), Adem Bona (3), and Jaime Jaquez Jr. walk along the line. On the field during the second half against USC at Pauley Pavilion on January 5.

(Jay Si Hong / Associated Press)

“He will leave an imprint on the kids he plays with and the coaches he plays no matter where he goes because of his personality and how hard he plays and the quality of his personality.”

— Prolific prep basketball coach Billy McKnight, on Adam Bona

How about switching to jitterbug from point guard? Bona did too, coming off the wing last weekend to rival Colorado KJ Simpson. The fast guard challenged Bona, heading for the basket. He appeared to beat the big man for throwing the ball before Bona recovered, extending his arm to block the shot.

“He’s just a natural, unique athlete who can run like a deer and guard the smaller guys in a big guy’s body,” said UCLA assistant coach Darren Savino, who works extensively with the team’s big men.

Puna’s highlights picked up pace after a month or so of dropped passes, foul play and unsteady footwork. He has improved across the board, largely due to avoiding the mistakes that kept him off the field.

Among other things, Bona learned to get defensive early on, keep his hands where the umpires could see them and avoid making mistakes on the perimeter. As his errors decreased, his production soared. Over the last five games, he averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while making 67.6% of his shooting.

His teammates are throwing more passes to him each game, whether in the half court or in the transition, capitalizing on the speed he developed in his homeland long before he first picked up the ball.

“For my height it doesn’t make sense, but in my head it makes sense,” Bona said of his greatest athletic talent.

Bona’s ceremonial locker room dances also have a genetic component because they resemble the moves he saw her mother do. The mother and son have only seen each other via FaceTime conversations since leaving Turkey, but they still share private moments.

After her other sons told her about their younger brother’s 15-point, eight-rebound performance against Utah, she called him and serenaded him with another jingle. cracked.

“It was so funny, I was dying,” he said, and the mother’s son’s smile widened again.

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