Does the name David Nwaba mean anything to you? Your answer is probably no. Which is too bad, but it speaks to his journey on getting to the NBA. For his full story, you can check out Who in the World is David Nwaba? from the Players’ Tribune. I found Nwaba’s story to be heartwarming and encouraging. We all have hopes, dreams and goals, but sometimes getting there can be difficult. There will always be challenges and even heart ache in some cases. The harder we work towards these goals, the farther away we feel from that end point. But Nwaba never gave up, and now he is playing for the Chicago Bulls. Here is his story:
At 18, he started out as a freshman at Hawaii Pacific, which is a Division II school. He was a good high school basketball player, and had grown up in Los Angeles. For those of you who don’t know Hawaii Pacific isn’t exactly the big time. Nwaba didn’t have a lot of time to make the decision. If he didn’t take the spot, they were going to give it to someone else. So he put his ego aside, and made the commitment. Nwaba describes his experience:
“I used the opportunity out in Hawaii to grow mentally, rebuilding my confidence, which had slowly been chipped away by the recruiting process. While enrolled at Hawaii-Pacific, I made it over to see a couple University of Hawaii (D-1) games. When I saw those guys play, I just knew, deep down, that I could play — and needed to be playing — at a higher level.”
During this time, he had reached out to a lot of Division I coaches, just in case anyone would give him an opportunity. But no one was interested. He felt that junior college was his only option. Which landed him at Santa Monica College. It was 5 minutes away from his parents’ house. Originally SMC had recruited him out of high school, but he felt that he was “too good” to go there the year before. This is how he describes that experience:
“I didn’t know it, but today I realize it was actually one of the most important stages of my career — and it had nothing to do with basketball. It was about humbling myself. People should know that not only is there nothing wrong with juco, but that it can actually be just what you need.”
The next challenge that Nwaba faced was the fact that they didn’t make the playoffs. While that in itself is a bit of a bummer, the bigger issue was that Division I coaches wouldn’t get the chance to see him play. His coach at Santa Monica got him in touch with a coach at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, which is a Division I school in the Big West. He made the team at Cal Poly and explains it as a big break for him.
“Cal Poly was a big break. Yeah, it wasn’t UNC or Kentucky, or even a Pac-12 school. But it got me on the level I felt I belonged. Cal Poly had an intense nonconference schedule — big games against Gonzaga, Arizona, and other major programs — which I was excited about right away. I always saw those big games as a major opportunity. I’d think, I might not have been recruited like any of these other guys, but I’m still on the same court competing with them. You never knew who might be watching.”
He played at Cal Poly in 2013 for the rest of his college career. At the end, he expected some all conference honours, but when the Big West all-conference teams were announced, he wasn’t on them. Not the first, not even the second. He did get an honorable mention, but that wasn’t exactly instilling any confidence in himself. Let alone to be able to make the NBA. It was at this point that he started to get realistic about his future in basketball. Trying to prepare himself emotionally, just in case.
Nwaba attended four overseas showcases, but didn’t get any overseas offers. While he was waiting, however, he got a call from the L.A. D-Fenders – the Lakers’ D-League affiliate. They were inviting him to a closed door tryout. There are many downsides to the D-League. One of them is that they don’t pay too well. The average contract is about $19,000 a year. But, Nwaba saw this as an opportunity, so he had to take full advantage of it. At this time, he also started to receive some offers to play overseas, but none paid more than $700 a month.
Discouraged, his two options were to find a “regular” job or to play in the D-League. He tried out for another team, but this time, he had to pay $150 just to try out. This seemed like one more thing stopping him from his dream, but he had one simple goal. Which was to find a job playing basketball. And the closer he could be to his home, the better. He paid the $150, and it paid off. The Bighorns signed him after his try out and invited him to join their training camp in November. As he made the trip to Reno, he learned that the D-Fenders had traded for him a week early, so he had to head back to Los Angeles.
“Everyone in the D-League is laser-focused on the NBA. Everyone’s goal is to get a call-up, but by the middle of the season, there wasn’t much call-up action happening. My teammate Vander Blue, who was a top D-League prospect, couldn’t even get one. Personally, I was just doing what I could to help my team win games. My main goal was to build relationships with coaches and hopefully get invited to make a Summer League roster. As the season went on, I started improving my game and playing a lot better. I even scored at least 20 points in four straight games.”
In late February, he got an unusual call from his coach. The farthest thing from his mind was an NBA call up. But that’s what was happening. The Lakers offered him a 10 day contract. They then offered him another 10 day contract, and ultimately he signed to play for the rest of the year. All of these struggles and Nwaba felt that this was where he belonged.
He is now only a few weeks away from next season’s training camp, playing for the Chicago Bulls. His objective has changed now – he doesn’t just want to make hte team, but he wants to stick around. And he knows that if he gets the chance, he’ll make it count. A year ago, he says he was looking for a job – any job. He had the faith that it owuld work out, if he was just patient. He had to learn how to trust the process. I will end my post with this last quote from Nwaba.
“No journey is a straight line — every single one looks a little different. Trust yourself and go to work. If it’s truly what you want, never let the dream die. You might just surprise yourself.”