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How Faith, Roots & Role Models Have Shaped Overseas Basketball Star Caleb Agada & His Pro Basketball Career

Caleb Agada | Professional Basketball Player | Hapoel Be'er Sheva of the Israeli Premier League

My faith is the main reason for all my accomplishments, in the past, present and future.

Caleb Agada

Professional Basketball Player

Hapoel Be'er Sheva of the Israeli Premier League

× The interview with Caleb Agada was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your journey becoming a professional basketball player. When did you know you wanted to pursue a professional career in the sport?

My basketball journey began in Burlington, Ontario at Assumption High School, where I began playing organized basketball. Next, I attended the University of Ottawa and played there for 5 years before becoming a professional.  For the next 2 and a half years I played in Spain and am currently playing in Israel.

To be honest, I consider my basketball journey similar to a lot of players, in the sense that I grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood and used basketball at first for fun, but later as an instrument to better mine and my family’s lives.

My journey is unique in the sense that I was raised by a single mother who prioritized education and was completely against all my basketball aspirations. Despite all the medals and achievements I had received in my throughout my early unprofessional career, my mom only got on board in my last years of university where I had proven to be one of the best players in the country and capable of pursuing basketball professionally.

My mom’s attempts to suppress basketball was one of my motivating factors and I consider it a significant reason why I am able to play at a high level. Getting my mom on board was the hardest challenge I faced in my basketball journey, I don’t recall anything else being as difficult.

I am unbelievably thankful for the countless people, experiences and opportunities basketball has brought into my life. The journey is not finished but I continually tell myself it is only a fraction of my overall journey through life. This mindset allows me to appreciate basketball on a different level. It diminishes the fears of it coming to an end and brings excitement and anticipation for the next chapter in my life.

You have been very vocal about your advocacy for equality and more specifically for people of African descent against oppression. Given how passionate you are in supporting your roots, how much did it mean to you to get to represent Nigeria in 2018?

There is a lot of misconception and confusion about black identity in the world and like most black people, I have faced and continue to experience this. I have been privileged to learn and gain a deeper understanding of race which has helped me enormously, this new knowledge enables me to express myself freely and spread messages I feel are beneficial to black people.

This enlightenment came over me in the last several months, however, I have always had a great sense of pride as a black man and have been curious for deeper understanding. Playing for Nigeria in the 2018 World cup qualifiers in Nigeria is one of my greatest accomplishments. I was proud to represent my country and the experience allowed me to confront my curiosities.

I was born in Nigeria and moved to Canada in 2000 when I was 6. I did return in 2008 but hadn’t returned since then until basketball gave me an opportunity to return 10 years later, expense-free. On the trip, I was able to reconnect with family and old friends and was able to see and understand Nigeria through a much more mature lens. The combination of these things transformed my curiosity into a passion and I began my journey for more knowledge on the identity and struggle of our African descendants.

The 2018 qualifiers is an experience I will always hold dear, as a great accomplishment and an event that changed my life.

You are also very open about your faith and very unapologetic about who you are making you a great role model for the next generation of players coming behind you. Who were your role models as an emerging star and how difficult is it to stay true to yourself as a professional athlete?

My faith is another significant aspect of my identity.

I was raised in a Christian home and went to church every Sunday in my primary and secondary years of school. When I graduated high school and went to university, I began living on my own which caused that consistency to diminish.

My relationship with God suffered a lot in my early years of university. Luckily through growth and maturity, I realized what was really important to me and what I needed which led me to practise more consistently and my faith and relationship have continued to grow since then. My faith is the main reason for all my accomplishments, in the past, present and future.

My role models have changed through the years, again a result of maturity and growth. In my early years, I looked up to athletes and celebrities such as Kanye West, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant to name a few.

As a youth, I was sold on their superficial fame and didn’t understand the level of depth a person of notoriety needed for me personally to consider them a role model. My role models today are people of both high and low notoriety, however, they offer more than the name they have created for themselves.

Now my role models include Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois and Nigeria political activists and musician Fela Kuti. I will not say much about these people, I just hope anyone reading this article takes some time to research them and understand how important and powerful they are.

In May, amidst the one of the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, you accepted an offer to go play in Israel in one of the most prestigious leagues in the world and performed very well which gave you the opportunity to return there for the 2020-21 season. How important is it to take calculated risks like that to advance your professional basketball career?

The pandemic is difficult for everyone, most people returning to their jobs face a risk whether great or small and it’s the same for professional athletes. There are a lot of precautions and restrictions in place to keep us as safe as possible but with the persistence of the virus, there will always be a risk. Life goes on, playing basketball professionally is a privilege, so I am making the best out of an abnormal situation.

Looking back on how you got to where you are today, it began with a post-secondary basketball career at a Canadian university, the University of Ottawa. Why did you choose a USports school and how do you think this decision affected your basketball career? Do you think your career would have taken the same path had you competed in the NCAA?

I am so thankful for the University of Ottawa. On my visits there before I committed I felt comfortable and connected with the school, the city and the team and that made it the only option for me.

Coach Jimmy was one of the best coaches I played for. He taught me the game and positively affected my game the most. I have life long relationships with so many of my teammates from university, I met my best friends Moe Ismail and Ryan Evans and so many others, and we built the best memories.

I attribute most of my success in USports to Coach Jimmy and my teammates, the atmosphere they created made it very easy for me to thrive. I would not trade my experiences with them for a full scholarship to any top-level NCAA school and I am humbled to have been a GeeGee.

Stacey Leawood Stacey's Final Thoughts

Caleb Agada is a major Nigerian and Canadian success. His maturity and his curiosity not only shaped his career but shaped him as a person and have allowed him to become a great role model for more up and coming talent. Caleb faced immense adversity on his journey to the pros and is a good example that you can’t control the cards that you’re dealt but you can control how you handle them. I hope his story helps show athletes what it means to be a mature professional both on and off the court and inspire more U Sports athletes to pursue a professional career after graduation. I look forward to seeing Caleb step into the NBA one day!

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