Florida State's 7-foot-1 center is still growing into his position

February 04, 2010|By Jeff Barker | jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK — - Why is Florida State center Solomon Alabi perhaps the most intriguing player in the Atlantic Coast Conference?

Let's count the ways:

•Because the redshirt sophomore from Nigeria, a prankster to his teammates, is a 7-foot-1 center still growing into his position and his sport. He was a striker in soccer before he began playing basketball at 15.

"He's one of the best-shooting big men in the country, especially for a 7-footer," said assistant coach Andy Enfield of Florida State (16-5, 4-3 ACC), which hosts Maryland (14-6, 4-2) tonight. "He is a tremendous mid-range shooter. And I think he's only reached 50 percent [of his potential] on the offensive end." He is already the ACC's best foul shooter among big men - 82.4 percent, fourth overall in the conference.

•Because he aspires to play in the NBA and return some of his wealth to his home country. "I am from a small town, and running water would be huge in the community," Alabi said Wednesday in a telephone interview before practicing for the rematch with the Terps, who beat the Seminoles, 77-68 on Jan. 10. "I'm familiar with [former NBA star] Dikembe Mutombo. I think he's a great guy for what he did for the people of Africa."

•Because he once dyed his hair green - a color of the Nigerian flag - while in high school at Florida's Montverde Academy to generate fan enthusiasm for a soccer match he was attending. Or because he contrived a story for teammates about how he once killed a lion with his bare hands.

Alabi confesses to the strangled lion fabrication with an embarrassed laugh.

"Oh, man," he said. "Yes, I said I've killed a lion before. They had no idea. They thought I lived in the wild." Said Enfield: "That's what he tells people and most people look at him like he's crazy, and then he'll start laughing." Enfield said Florida State was aided in its recruitment of Alabi because head coach Leonard Hamilton "has some connection in Nigeria with people who have brought Nigerians over to the United States."

Uche Echefu - from Lagos - also played for Florida State. He is now playing overseas.

Alabi was the first player broached by Maryland coach Gary Williams when he began his conversation with the media Wednesday about Florida State.

"You look right away at Alabi when you're playing Florida State," Williams said. "He's just one of those people I'm really interested in watching play five years from now to see where he is as a player. He's got the body where he can put on 50 pounds and still be a great athlete with that type of weight." Alabi's play is notable for his shooting touch and his nimble footwork.

"I think that comes from playing soccer when he was younger," Williams said. "He's a much better shooter ... than people give him credit for. It's not just tap dunks and things like that."

Alabi picked up early fouls against the Terps in the team's first meeting, but still finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

Alabi said he enjoys playing on the road.

"The crowd going crazy and stuff, it's fun. Everyone tells me college time is like the best, so I've got to take advantage," he said.

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