Once grounded, Olu Famutimi now soaring with Nighthawks

If ever Olu Famutimi dreamed of playing basketball anywhere close to his hometown, it was no doubt as a member of the Toronto Raptors.

The 36-year-old is indeed playing professional basketball in Ontario, but the talons on his jersey come in the form of Nighthawks, not dinos.

It’s a hard turn from a once promising career that began in Toronto and migrated to Flint Northwestern High School in Michigan, where he was named a 2003 McDonald’s High School Basketball All American alongside some guy named LeBron James.

Like many young Canadian hoops fans, Famutimi grew up idolizing Vince Carter. He was well on his way to being drafted to the NBA when he tore his ACL while landing a dunk while playing for the University of Arkansas. Despite the devastating injury, he elected to enter the 2005 NBA Draft, where he was passed over entirely.

He did earn a couple cups of NBA coffee with the San Antonio Spurs and the Philadelphia 76ers, even appearing in a few preseason games before being waived. Over the past 15 years, he’s bounced around several pro leagues around Europe and North America, even playing for Canada’s men’s national basketball team.

Famutimi was named MVP of Guelph’s Canadian Elite Basketball League squad after the Royal City’s inaugural season in 2019, and he currently has his eyes set on leading the Nighthawks to a Summer Series tournament win when CEBL resumes player later this month.

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The long road back to basketball relevance made last year’s team MVP win that much sweeter.

“I never really expected that award at the point of my career that I’m at right now, so it was really a blessing and a testimony to the hard work that I’ve been putting in over the years,” Famutimi said.

Famutami averaged 15.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game for Guelph last season, and while he didn’t lead the club in any of those categories, his journey certainly affords him an extra level of leadership and perspective that truly defines his value.

“Olu became a staple in our locker room last season, showing our younger players the work ethic and dedication required to excel at the professional level,” Head Coach & GM Charles Kissi said at the time of Famutami’s re-signing. “His steady presence was influential as we started to mold the culture of our club in the second half of the season. We’re excited to have Olu back, and I believe being the first signing of the upcoming season is representative of his role as a core leader in 2020.”

The 2020 season did not play out as anyone expected, but Famutami is excited about the format nonetheless.

“I like everything about it. Considering the situation, we’re lucky to even be able to actually have a season. The structure of the tournament is amazing, and I think the Elam Ending is going to make things really intense,” he said.

Indeed, the part of the CEBL decision to turn the season into a single-site tournament, rather than the 20-game regular season was the institution of the Elam Ending, which sees teams play to a target score at the end of the fourth quarter rather than the typical conclusion of the clock. As a result, every game has a game winning basket, making for a much more exciting finish.

Expect the MVP to be a vocal party in those late-game huddles and a key contributor in Guelph’s efforts to win the championship.

Lord knows he’s paid his dues.

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