HENDERSON, Nev. – Five years before he’d share a court with the projected top-two draft picks, in a Las Vegas arena overflowing with NBA scouts, with courtside viewers like Chris Paul, Devin Booker and DeMarcus Cousins watching on, Efe Abogidi was prepared to walk away from basketball.
It actually would’ve been more of a hobble for Abogidi, who began to contemplate his future after a career-threatening moment at the 2017 NBA Global Academy games in Canberra, Australia. In one horrific fall, Abogidi tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus while attempting a dunk. It could have been the downfall of his career.
For someone who needed extensive rehabilitation, surgery and other medical procedures just to get back on his feet, let alone dunk a basketball, Abogidi is speaking quite literally when he says, “Every step I take is a blessing.”
Even with his athletic upside, Abogidi was at a disadvantage when he started playing basketball, being introduced to the game much later than most of his peers. Two years of recovery weren’t conducive to someone who needed every practice, game and teaching moment available to him.
“Coming back from injury, I never had the idea that I was going to play basketball again,” Abogidi said. “I wasn’t even thinking about college.”
If college was an afterthought for Abogidi, then Tuesday’s scenario at Dollar Loan Center may as well have been a pipe dream.
The Washington State product made his debut for the NBA G League Ignite. With the basketball world focused on a juicy matchup between Ignite teammate Scoot Henderson, the projected No. 2 pick of the 2023 NBA draft, and 18-year-old French sensation Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick, Abogidi helped his case by scoring 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field in a 122-115 victory over Metropolitans 92.
“I think it’s a good start to the season,” Abogidi told The Spokesman-Review afterward. “Great players out there, potential No. 1, No. 2 pick coming out of this NBA draft. To have that kind of competition is great, and that’s what’s going to get me to be a better player. I don’t really care about the points, I’m just trying to make my team win.”
With the NBA still in its preseason phase, and college hoops still about a month away, Tuesday’s game grabbed hold of the basketball universe in a way that few other exhibitions have. Two hundred representatives from the NBA attended, including at least two general managers: Rob Pelinka of the Los Angeles Lakers and Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder. With a preseason game against the Lakers in Vegas the following day, Booker, Paul and three other Phoenix teammates sat courtside, as did Cousins and multiple members of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. More than 80 media members were credentialed.
Most came for the matchup between Wembanyama and Henderson, who validated why they’re considered to be generational talents who could instantly change the face of any NBA franchise that drafts them – presumably with the top two picks in June. Wembanyama scored 37 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the 3-point line and registered five blocks while Henderson had 28 points with nine assists.
Wembanyama and Henderson had their highlight-reel moments, giving NBA executives plenty of game film to pore over for the next seven months. Abogidi squeezed in a few of his own.
At one point in the second half, the 6-foot-10 forward came out of a pick-and-a-roll, collected a bounce pass from Henderson, jump-stopped and finished a two-handed dunk over Wembanyama. Abogidi also dunked on his first offensive possession in the first half and earned a three-point play in the second half, muscling past two Metropolitan defenders to gain position under the hoop before finishing off the glass.
“Efe is a high-energy, athletic, young big,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “Still learning the nuances of the NBA game, but he’s supremely athletic, great kid and then he’s someone who’s trying to get better every time.”
Earlier this summer, Abogidi became the first player to sign with Ignite directly from college, potentially creating an alternate pathway for NBA hopefuls who aren’t ready for the draft. The program, which relocated from Northern California to Las Vegas this year, had three players selected in the 2022 NBA draft, including first-rounders Dyson Daniels and MarJon Beauchamp.
Three days after Abogidi entered the transfer portal, he received an Instagram message from Hart, a former USC assistant, gauging the Nigerian forward’s interest in playing for Ignite. At the time, Abogidi was also considering a return to Pullman but had interest from dozens of other high-major schools looking to add a dunker and shot-blocker to their roster.
“We recruit just like any other program, specifically college,” Hart said. “I remember seeing him as a freshman when I was at USC. He put his name in the transfer portal, I called him just like any other high-major. We struck up a relationship and this was something he wanted to look at.”
Now months removed from the portal process, Abogidi said he didn’t seriously consider transferring to another college. His loyalty to WSU runs deep and it’s not lost on the 20-year-old that the Cougars gave him an opportunity at a point when other college coaches thought his injuries were too much of a liability.
“To be frank with you, it was kind of hard leaving Washington State. They were family to me,” Abogidi said. “… I couldn’t even have that thought of leaving WSU for another college. I couldn’t even think about moving to another Pac-12 college.”
WSU assistant coach John Andrzejek, who was Abogidi’s primary recruiter, flew to Las Vegas to watch Tuesday’s exhibition and was planning to attend Ignite’s practice Wednesday morning.
“(WSU coach) Kyle Smith gave me an opportunity,” Abogidi said. “I had no offers, I had literally no offers coming to college. So, to have coach Smith who believed in me these past two years, it was a huge step for me.”
Abogidi’s still adjusting to life as a full-time professional. Without the rigors and time demands of a college schedule, there may be more hours available every day, but it’s a lifestyle that’s challenging in other ways.
“You think going pro is going to be easier,” he said. “No, it’s definitely not. It’s a lot more responsibility. You’ve got to be accountable to yourself.
“People are going to tell you to do this and do that. In the game they’re telling me, do this, do that. They’ll be like, ‘Just get this done.’ No one’s going to explain it to you. You’ve just got to go get it done.”
Abogidi guaranteed he’ll be in attendance when WSU travels to play UNLV on Dec. 10 in Las Vegas. He was gutted to hear about recent developments involving Cougars center Dishon Jackson, who’s out indefinitely due to medical issues, and guard Myles Rice, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I called the trainer, I called Dishon just to check up on him and see how he’s doing. He said he’s doing great,” Abogidi said. “Myles, that was a shocker, that was a shocker, man, that was a shocker. But it’s life, man. It’s life. Sometimes we get stuck to this idea that basketball is everything.
“There’s other things that people have we just don’t realize. My prayers just go out to Myles … he’s going to come back stronger than ever.”
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