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Somalian Tall, But Maybe That's Not All
LAS VEGAS, December 29, 2005 (SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE) – For the past couple of weeks I have been getting phone calls from a fellow named Muhamed Muhammed from Somalia, who says he has a cousin back home who is a pretty good basketball player. He said he had a videotape to prove it.
I guess he thought I was Jimmy Dolan.
Jimmy Dolan was Kevin Bacon's character in the 1994 movie "The Air Up There," a forgettable comedy about an assistant basketball coach who discovers a potential All-American while watching a documentary on missionary work in Africa .
Sometimes real life does imitate art. Even if it's only 1 1/2-star art.
I guess you can never have enough friends in Somalia , so I finally caved and told Muhammed to bring down the tape and I would tell him what I thought. As if that meant anything.
Muhammed has spent the past 13 years in the United States and has a good command of English. But when I asked what kind of player his cousin was, he thought I meant literally.
"Tall," he said.
He wasn't joking.
Muhammed is pretty tall himself _ about 6-3, I would guess. I immediately recognized him in the video. He was the one having his jump shot rejected into a cattle pasture by the giant wearing a Tracy McGrady jersey.
"My Lord," I said out loud. "How tall is he?"
Muhammed didn't know. He still seemed a little unsure of converting meters to feet and inches. But suffice it to say, this guy had a lot of meters.
In that he appeared to be at least a head taller than Muhammed, I'd make him for about 7-3. Not as tall as Manute Bol maybe, but nowhere near as thin, either. And as Muhammed said, Somalia isn't exactly the best place to put on weight.
Muhammed said his cousin is called Walli Nor. He said he's 20 years old. Didn't pick up a basketball until he was 16, which is pretty amazing, given the way he shot it and handled it in the video.
Nor dribbled with his left hand and dribbled with his right hand. He showed a deft shooting touch both around the basket and from 15 feet. During the 20 minutes I watched, he probably made at least 70 percent of his shots.
Granted, watching a 7-foot-3 guy dunk on his cousin on a sandy court outside a United Nations habitat school doesn't mean that Nor is the next Hakeem Olajuwon. But I'm telling you, the big guy has some skills. He could play Division II ball right now. Put him in Pete Newell's Big Man camp, and who knows how far he could go?
That's all his cousin wants _ some coach at some school to give big Walli a chance, not only to play basketball, but to get an education and a shot at the American dream.
"He wants to learn something than to just play basketball," Muhammed said. "The sooner the better. Time is essence."
It's hard to believe that any kid with a pair of high-tops and baggy shorts could fall through the recruiting cracks during this day and age. But you won't find too many unpolished gems from Somalia hooping it up at Rucker Park in Harlem , either.
"What if you are born with an opportunity, but not born in such a fortunate place?" Muhammed said. "There are no opportunities in Somalia . It is a poor place."
Muhammed grew up in a village called Galkaio, which isn't exactly New York City _ until you compare it to the place Nor calls home.
"He is from out in the jungle," Muhammed said with a laugh.
But barring a Christian Laettner long shot, that's just where his cousin may wind up. Breathing the air up there all by his lonesome. Or playing pickup games against the Winabi or the Mingori, like Saleh in the movies, hoping against hope that somebody like Jimmy Dolan will come into his life.