Nigerian intrigues Raptors

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:14 AM ET

TORONTO - It is doubtful the Raptors know more about any other prospect than Solomon Alabi.

Alabi, the tallest player eligible for the 2010 NBA Draft, worked out Tuesday for the team’s braintrust, which includes a very familiar face.

Raptors assistant GM of player personnel Masai Ujiri discovered the fellow Nigerian six years ago at the basketball camp he runs in his native country and has kept close tabs as his 6-foot-9 camper grew into a 7-foot-1 centre and legitimate first-round prospect.

“He grew up in the same part as I did in Nigeria and that’s where I was doing my camp (originally),” Ujiri said after watching Alabi, Marshall centre Hassan Whiteside, South Florida guard Dominique Jones and Cincinnati guard Lance Stephenson work out.

“He came and was very intriguing. We got him into Basketball Without Borders, one of the many we’ve tried to develop there.”

But few of Ujiri’s prospects have come as far as Alabi, who anchored one of the NCAA’s top defences at Florida State, becoming just the ninth player in ACC history to lead that tough conference in blocked shots two years in a row.

Ujiri, who joined the Raptors in 2007, said 80-90 Nigerians have received NCAA basketball scholarships in recent years, and predicted Alabi would be “one of the first” to crack the NBA’s first round.

“He’s a great example for the kids back home, I’m very, very proud,” said Ujiri, who added he hopes to have Alabi as an instructor at his camp in Nigeria this summer.

“People look up to me now (and are) playing basketball now because of me, I want to give back,” Alabi said.

Alabi needs to put on weight and won’t make a huge impact right away, but has a nice offensive touch to go along with his defensive abilities.

Ujiri said he thinks both Alabi and Whiteside will get better with time, but can have an impact next year.


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