Nigeria's most recent contribution to American basketball pulled the University of Maryland-Baltimore County onto his strong back last night and nearly found the promised land.
Emmanuel Fasaye, who is not to be confused with Akeem Olajuwon just yet, delivered an Olajuwonian performance at the Baltimore Arena with a career-high 18 points. But he couldn't deliver a victory, as the Retrievers dropped a ragged 67-58 verdict to Boston University.
Tantalizing, it was. Pretty, it wasn't.
Fasaye -- pronounced Faa-SIGH -- came to UMBC by a most circuitous route. He was born in London, England, to Nigerian parents. But he spent his adolescence in Lagos, Nigeria, the hometown of Olajuwon.
And, yes, Olajuwon, an NBA All-Star, supplied his inspiration.
"I saw him play and I wanted to do that, too," said Fasaye, a 6-foot-8 sophomore. "Once he made it, I saw it was possible it could happen."
Fasaye, 22, was working as a clerk in London and playing basketball part-time two summers ago when, at the invitation of a "lawyer friend," he visited Baltimore. That fall, he returned to enroll at UMBC and get the chance to develop his basketball skills on a higher level.
Last night he took perhaps his most meaningful step.
UMBC was getting drubbed by Boston University, 39-21, at halftime when coach Earl Hawkins elected to bench two of his best players, Derrick Reid and Jim Frantz. Fasaye replaced Frantz and Brian Watkins took over for Reid. Slowly but steadily, UMBC climbed back into the game.
Powering inside against the taller Terriers (2-2) -- including 6-9 Russell Jarvis, who scored a game-high 22 points -- Fasaye scored 16 points in 17 minutes in the second half. Watkins scored eight of his 14 points after halftime and the Retrievers (1-4) got as close as five points on three different occasions, the last with 41.6 seconds remaining. But they were never able to make up for an abysmal first half when they shot just 25 percent and played lethargically.
Hawkins' silver lining clearly was the play of Fasaye.
"He was aggressive on the boards," Hawkins said. "And he was able to slow down, but not stop, their big man. He's played well every game and he's our leading percentage shooter [at 60 percent]. But he's gotten in foul trouble a lot and not been able to stay on the floor long enough. He's got to learn how to stay out of foul trouble."
In addition to his scoring burst, Fasaye took five rebounds, had two steals and committed just three personal fouls. Last season he fouled out five times.
"So far it was my best game," Fasaye said, hesitantly. "But we lost, so I guess it was just a good workout."
For UMBC, perhaps, there are better days ahead.