A snap decision: How Huntley alum Amanze Egekeze landed on Nigeria's national basketball team

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Amanze Egekeze never lived in Nigeria but holds deep pride for his parents’ homeland.

Egekeze, a 2014 Huntley graduate, keeps dual citizenship, which benefits him when he signs with foreign teams to play professional basketball, as he has since 2018. A few foreign leagues still limit the number of U.S. players teams can have, so Egekeze can be considered Nigerian and does not count as a U.S. player.

That also made Egekeze eligible for an exciting opportunity last week. The 6-foot-8 forward was a last-minute invitee to play with the Nigerian National Team in the FIBA AfroBasket Rwanda 2021 Qualifiers.

Egekeze, the 2014 Northwest Herald Boys Basketball Player of the Year, averaged 7.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game while playing 21 1/2 minutes a game for Nigeria, which won the tournament’s Group D with a 3-0 record.

Nigeria advanced to the next round of the tournament, which takes place in February.

“The important thing for me now is I’m in the fraternity of the Nigerian National Team, which is something not a lot of people get to say,” Egekeze said. “I have international experience now being part of a winning team. Those things are always good. It’s important for my exposure and setting myself up for the future as well.

“It’s basically the championship for Africa. It’s all the African countries. It’s a big tournament.”

Because his parents, Gilbert and Liza, both immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, Egekeze is considered a citizen in their home country.

Egekeze, who turns 25 on Thursday, had the Nigerian team on his radar but recently was surprised when he received a phone call from Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, who coached Nigeria and was looking for a late replacement. Brown is the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I woke up one morning super early and got a call from Mike Brown,” Egekeze said. “He said they had a bunch of guys withdraw at the last minute for different reasons, particularly at my position. He asked if I’d be willing to join right away and come help them at the 4 (position) and some at the 5.”

Egekeze was in Gries, France, where his professional season with BC Gries-Oberhoffen of the LNB Pro B League was on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He needed to make certain if he left the country that he could return, because France was under quarantine.

After some research, Egekeze learned he would be able to return after the tournament, and he was off to Rwanda to meet new teammates.

“It was really, really short notice,” Egekeze said. “I kind of wish I could have given more people a heads-up that this was happening. It was literally a three-day decision. I didn’t have time to let many people know until I was on my way to the airport. It really was kind of a big deal to get that opportunity this early. I’m really fortunate.”

Egekeze played at NCAA Division I Belmont, graduating in 2018. He played his first professional season in Japan, then played last year in Greece.

BC Gries-Oberhoffen had played only three of its games before play was suspended. Egekeze and his teammates were working out and scrimmaging but had not played any games in November.

Nigeria was well-represented in the NBA draft last month, with six players either from Nigeria or with one parent from Nigeria selected in the first round.

Egekeze had a teammate he played with in France help him contact the general manager of the Nigerian team.

“If you’re an NBA guy, they contact you and try to get you,” Egekeze said. “For everybody else, you have to reach out and let them know who you are because there’s so many talented Nigerian players in the states.”

The FIBA tournaments are played in November and February, at which times club players are released from their teams for competition. Egekeze enjoyed his time meeting players such as 37-year-old Ike Diogu, a 6-9, 255-pound center and captain of the team, a fixture for Nigeria for more than 15 years.

Ben Uzoh, 32, is another longtime Nigerian player whom Egekeze had met at a Windy City Bulls tryout.

Nigeria already qualified for the Olympic Games, which were pushed back from 2020 to 2021 in Japan because of the coronavirus. Egekeze said the line of Nigerian players for the Olympics will be a long one. He hopes to rejoin Nigeria again in February to try to bring the AfroBasket championship back to the country.

“There is a good chance I will be back there in February,” Egekeze said. “Nothing is 100% sure. Mike Brown is not going to be there in February because they’ll be in the middle of their (NBA) season with the Warriors. I don’t know if that changes things or not. Right now, there’s a pretty decent chance.”

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.