Flourish Sports Group co-founder Iseolupo Adepitan is one of the key men, along with New York Giants legend Osi Umenyiora, responsible for producing a new wave of basketball and American football talent in Nigeria.
His football programme, which works with Umenyiora, saw seven players convert from hoops to gridiron and make it to the NFL International Combine in London last year, and of those Kenneth Odumegwu, Jason Godrick and David Agoha made the NFL International Player Pathway Program (IPPP ) Class of 2023.
The Educational Basketball program produced Emmanuel Okorafor, who played in the Basketball Africa League for Espoir Fukash last year, and has since gone on to join NCAA D1 side the University of Louisville Cardinals.
Adepitan born in London and raised in Houston, Texas, has dedicated his career to finding African talent who can achieve their sporting dreams, while his own ambitions were left unrealized after he lost sight in one eye as a child.
Coats Disease, a disorder related to the development of the blood vessels in the retina and causes it to detach, left Adepitan blind in one eye at the age of six. Although he held his own against able-bodied soccer and basketball players, he was never able to play at the highest level.
Adepitan nevertheless retained his love of sport, doing his best to adapt to his diminished vision on the soccer field, which was his home at the time, as he had yet to discover basketball.
He added: “I grew up playing football [soccer]. Football was my first love. When I was in the UK, I always used to play football and then I found basketball. I was more of a defensive [footballer] – anywhere across the backline.
“I remember the first time I played soccer on the pitch [with one eye], it was just completely different, because you’re going from using two eyes to using one eye. You’re going from having your full vision to half, so it was a big adjustment at first playing soccer.
“When I decided to play basketball, because I had never played basketball before, it wasn’t an adjustment – it was just how I learned to play.”
By this time, Adepitan was 10 years old and living in Houston, having previously spent three years in New Jersey (2001-2004). Houston would remain his home until 2015.
Of his basketball dreams, he added: “When I was in fourth grade and I used to live not far from a park. We always used to go there every day after school and play with my friends. I turned out to be pretty good at it, so then I started to get more training and played in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) circuit, played in middle school, played in high school.”
READ: NCAA D1 hoops benefiting from influx of African talent
Rather than playing in the NCAA, Adepitan went into current Houston Rockets assistant coach John Lucas’ development program [John Lucas Enterprises] after high school, together with his older brother Olutobi.
Along the way, he crossed paths with Mike James, a 2004 NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons.
“In met [Iseolupo] at the time when he was pursuing his collegiate career. Him and his brother were really trying to get an opportunity,” James told ESPN.
“Coach Lucas allowed them to come work out in the gym. Nobody really knew who they were, but after playing with them, we realized: ‘These kids are really good athletes. They can really play basketball,’ but it’s just like politics and anything in life.
“Sometimes, even in the business world, it’s really not what you know – you can always learn on the job – it’s who you know that can put you in that position. If you don’t have the right people to put you in position , then it really doesn’t matter about your skill if you can’t showcase it.”
He added: “Not everyone is allowed to train with us, so you have to be pretty good just to be able to get on the court with us and train with us. That just showed a lot of testament to who they were.
“I think that they could have gone to any big-time Division I college and played well at a Division I level – and they probably even could have got an opportunity to play professional basketball, whether it was overseas, Europe [or] even the NBA. They had just as good of an opportunity or chance as anyone else.”
In 2015, Adepitan returned to his family roots, moving to Nigeria with hopes of playing for D’Tigers – the men’s national basketball team. However, after witnessing firsthand the scarcity of investment in development, he decided to rather focus on taking matters into his own hands.
Together with his brother, they formed Educational Basketball, which later morphed into Flourish Sports Group when it expanded into American football.
Adepitan said: “I feel like I got pretty close [to playing for Nigeria]because training with Coach John Lucas, he was the Nigerian national team head coach when I was in high school.
“Being able to connect and work with him gave me the hope of the possibility that it could happen. Unfortunately, when I came to Nigeria, it just didn’t happen, so I just decided to teach it instead.”
Louisville’s Okorafor is the Adepitans’ most high-profile pupil, and he says training with the brothers is the foundation for his own success, and calls it the most ‘intense’ basketball schooling he’s had.
Okorafor, now only 18, told ESPN: “I came in contact with Iseolupo [in] 2019. I was so young. He reached out to my Instagram and [said] I had potential and I should come train with him and his brother and develop my skills.
“I always wanted to have that type of training – like, a one on one session or individual sessions with not many people so I can work on myself and that’s how I joined Educational Basketball.
“It wasn’t an easy thing when I first practiced with them, their training was intense and they had me matchup with some guys better than me. They made me realize that it’s not just about having talent; you have to compete and work hard .
“They were the first ones that believed I could be tall and also dribble the ball so well. We worked on my handles a lot and there were lots of improvements as time went by.”
Iseolupo and Olutobi Adepitan never fulfilled their D’Tigers dreams and the former never got to show the world what he strongly believed deep down – that he could hold his own against the best basketball players.
However, basketball and football fans across the globe will likely soon see the fruits of their hard work on the sidelines.