How a street boy from Calabar won three American scholarships while playing basketball – Sports Advocate

Fifteen-year-old basketball player David Etim received three American scholarship offers after meeting a Nigerian lawyer, Faithfulness Okom. The lawyer, now based in Spain, explains GODFREY GEORGE what he thinks about Etim’s successes and his passion for basketball

What kind of upbringing did you have?

My name is Trouw Okom. I am from Calabar, Cross River State. I am 26 years old. I am a lawyer and co-founder of a fintech startup. I graduated from University of Calabar in 2018. As a student at UNICAL, I was a thirteen-time debate champion. I was said to be the most decorated debater in Africa and I also represented the University at the Harvard IV 2016 in Boston, United States of America.

My father is Prof. Michael Okom, former Dean of the Faculty of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNICAL. He is also a bishop. My mother is an evangelist and leads an interdenominational community.

I feel like this can tell the complete story of my childhood. My parents were loving, but in an unprecedented way, because I grew up among several people who lived in our house. These were people we were helping and who were not blood relatives of ours. There have been times when the total number of people in our house exceeded 20.

I’m talking about people who live and are fed by my parents. My father also had a non-governmental organization called Life Resources Network to help youth and widows. So my childhood was defined first by God and spirituality, and then by education. This is because my father never joked about education, being a professor himself. He made us read a lot of books and learn five new words every day. Most importantly, I would say my childhood was defined by kindness and immense love.

Did you play basketball as a child? When did you realize you loved basketball?

As a child I played football and was captain from primary school to high school. I didn’t start watching basketball very intensely until 2020, and that was one of the reasons I became interested in helping young boys with physical attributes find their purpose in the game.

Have you always wanted to become a lawyer?

My father dedicated a law book to me when I was only a year old. I would say I was destined to become a lawyer, but my father also orchestrated my destiny. My nickname in high school was “Lawyer.” So you can see it was always a no-brainer for me.

How did you meet David Etim?

I was driving past Marian in Calabar one afternoon and I saw a ridiculously tall boy and knew I had to approach him to make sure he was playing basketball and not ‘wasting’ his physical attributes.

What drew you to him, besides his lankyness?

Initially this was his height. But when I spoke to him, I was also drawn to his story. When he described his situation and challenges, I knew I could help and that I had to help him reach his full potential.

Have you always been a basketball scout before Etim?

No, I wasn’t a scout.

Were there any failed attempts with different guys before David?

I wouldn’t call them failed attempts; But earlier that year, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a kid who used to worship at my church posting strange suicide messages on Facebook.

I invited him to my house to help him figure things out and realized he had had a growth spurt since the last time I saw him, and there and then I raised money, bought him basketball gear and enrolled him in a training program. Things haven’t gone well on the basketball front yet, but I’m glad he has renewed his enthusiasm for life and is currently in college.

You encountered strong resistance from David’s father. What really happened?

It was really strange. When he first came to my house, we fed him, and my twin brother and I gave him a suitcase full of clothes. The next time he came to our house, he said that his father had burned all the clothes we had given him the last time. At first I didn’t understand, but eventually I came to understand that his father was a difficult man. I don’t want to seem like I’m demonizing him, so I won’t say anything beyond that. David should be the one to speak about his father.

You mentioned that the young teenager came to live with you at some point. Weren’t you afraid the father would label you something you weren’t?

Everyone knows my family in Calabar, Cross River State. My parents are the nicest people you can imagine and are known for their kindness. We haven’t had any scandals. For me, I rest comfortably in my family’s reputation. We tried to help and knew we were sincere and had nothing to fear.

How did David get to Senegal for the National Basketball Association Africa tryouts?

Two people were crucial in this. The first was Mr Frank John, his coach, and also Prince John Owhe of the OCAS foundation. David is clearly talented, but they used their contacts to find opportunities for him and the NBA Academy invited David to a showcase where he got those scholarships.

He then contacted me for financing, and at the time I was with my friend Kennedy Ekezie, who heard the good news and also knew David from staying with my family, and he was happy to help with that.

Before Senegal, you had him enrolled in a basketball school. Why did you choose to invest so much in this young man?

Yes, it is true that before Senegal I handed him over to one of the best basketball coaches in Calabar, Mr. Frank John, and paid registration fees for the academy. The coach contacted me and my father when David had bills that needed to be paid. We just wanted to change the trajectory of his life and this is the easiest way to glorify God: helping people. That’s my family’s philosophy.

Have you ever been afraid that your investments would be lost?

The only thing I feared was that David wouldn’t reach his full potential and be significantly better than if he never met me. I felt the constant pressure to leave him better than I met him. As far as investments go, money comes and goes, and if you’ve been in my family’s position – constantly helping people – you’re going to have your fair share of heartbreak. So we don’t really feel like doing that. We do this because God wants us to do this and God is the one who rewards.

What were some of the obstacles he faced?

If you pick someone up from the ‘street’, you have to be prepared for anything. They can be anything. At the time, someone even asked what I would do if David decided to join a gang or cult group. My answer was that there was only one way to find out. He had his flaws and made some mistakes, some of which were enough to send him away, but my parents have been through everything you can imagine with people, and they can always keep the faith alive. I learned patience and understanding from them, so it was easy to deal with whatever David threw at us.

How did David get three scholarships from three colleges in the United States?

He received these scholarships thanks to his performances that dazzled the coaches within Mr. Prince John Owhe’s network. Mr. Owhe and Mr. Frank continued to send his videos to scouts and coaches around the world, but the NBA Africa Academy showcase made all the difference. He impressed everyone there.

Did you see that coming?

I didn’t really see it coming. Since I’ve been abroad I haven’t really been able to follow his development, so it was a pleasant surprise for me that he’s turned out as good as he has.

How does that make you feel that a boy you saw on the streets of Calabar in 2021 is on his way to becoming a big basketball star in the US?

It gives me a feeling of satisfaction, but there is still more work to be done. We need to get him a visa and raise money for his flights and maintenance. Once we have everything sorted out, I can enjoy this even more.

Has he already made his choice from the three options?

No he has not. Soon he will make a choice.

Is his father aware of his progress?

At this stage I can say that his father doesn’t care what he does.

Following David’s success, are you planning to start a scouting academy or youth basketball fund soon?

I really love sports and I have an LLM in sports law from Real Madrid and contacts within Europe. In addition to the fintech start-up I co-founded, I am building an entity, Inspire Naija, to help football and basketball talents connect to foreign football markets.

I am also building this together with Rajiv Autar from the Netherlands, also an alumnus of the Real Madrid LLM program with experience in high-profile football matters and transfers; and Duke Ekezie, a fellow Nigerian and co-founder of a Nigerian tech startup, Kippa, which has over 650,000 users and over $15 million in funding.

We know how sport can change lives and we want to help as many young people as possible. It is a cost-intensive project and we hope we can get all the financial support we can.

You recently moved to Spain. What was behind that move?

I moved to Spain in 2022 to pursue a master’s degree in Sports Law at the Real Madrid Graduate School. I finished as the top student in my class and got an internship at Real Madrid CF and one of the leading sports law firms in the world, Ruiz Huerta y Crespo. I also worked remotely as a product manager for startups in Nigeria, and remote work allowed me to move to France to be closer to my fiancée, who is studying business law there.