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Born: April 3, 1975
College: Univ. of the Pacific
Drafted: Round 1 - Pick #1 - LA Clippers
98/99 Michael Olowokandi RC Cards On eBay
Michael Olowokandi rookie cards do not have much value as he never lived up to being the #1 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. The story behind how Olowokandi managed to go from an unknown College player, to being the number 1 overall pick is one of the more remarkable sports stories in recent memory. Olowokandi grew up playing soccer in his native land of Nigeria and continued playing the sport when he moved to London, England as a youth. He did not begin playing basketball until the age of 17 when he grew to over 7 feet tall.
Olowokandi was not recruited to come play College Basketball in the United States. From England he called the only two schools he had heard of, Georgetown and Duke to inquire about playing for the team. After getting nowhere with those two powerhouse schools, he decided he wanted to move to California to be near the Pacific Ocean. Logically, he decided to give the University of the Pacific, located in Stockton, CA a call to see if they needed a 7-foot center. The good news for Olowokandi was that UOP was very much interested in him - the bad news was that the University of the Pacific campus was over two hours from the Pacific ocean.
The proximity of the Pacific Ocean to the UOP campus didn't hamper Olowokandi's interest in coming to California to play for the Tigers. In fact, UOP did not have a basketball scholarship for Olowokandi his first year on campus. UOP is a very small private school with only around 4,000 students and is known much more for it's academic reputation then it's sports teams. The cost to attend Pacific in 1998 was around $30,000 a year just for tuition. Olowokandi paid a full ride his first year on campus and began majoring in Economics.
Pacific Tiger fans were intrigued by the 7-Foot center from England. There were hopes by his senior season maybe he could be a starter and average 10 points and 8 rebounds. The problem for the coaching staff at Pacific was the fact that Olowokandi had virtually no basketball knowledge. Terms like "Go to the Block" or "3 Second Violation" were foreign to him and that was all apart of the teaching process that went on. His first year on campus, technically his sophomore season - he averaged 4 points and 3.4 rebounds a game.
Something remarkable happened over the course of a hot steaming summer in Stockton in 1996. Michael Olowokandi worked on his game. The footwork from playing soccer as a child was now paying off in spades as the agile 7 footer moved on the basketball court with ease. He gained muscle and filled out his frame and for the first time looked like a basketball player. By the end of his junior season at Pacific, when he averaged 10.6 Points and 6.6 Rebounds there was talk he may have a future playing professionally, although the NBA was still a distant dream.
One misconception about Olowokandi was that he was lazy. He was not lazy. Going from a 17 year old kid who never played basketball to the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft just 6 years later was not luck. The man worked hard. And as a young High School kid myself, I saw him go from a 7-Foot novelty, to quite possibly the best college player I've ever seen with my own two eyes. I was a ball boy for the UOP Basketball team during the time Olowokandi was at Pacific. His big smile and thick accent made him very easy to like. His senior season at Pacific he averaged 22.2 Points 11.2 Rebounds and 3 Blocks per game. It was a mismatch every time he took the court. Centers in the Big West are lucky to be 6-10" at best. Nobody in that conference could hang with him and teams resorted to double and triple teams to try and stop the Kandi Man.
Talk started to build quickly that Olowokandi was a true NBA prospect. Toward the end of his senior season "experts" thought he could make it into the 1st round. As the 1998 NBA Draft neared though it was clear that 7-Foot centers with good footwork don't come around often. Even if Olowokandi was a project, the talent was too much to pass up. Not only that, Olowokandi was smart and came across well in interviews. He graduated from Pacific with a degree in Economics - one of the more difficult majors at the University. I'll never forget being a 16 year old kid and David Stern calling out Michael Olowokandi - the first pick in the NBA Draft. Two days later, as I am driving by Pacific with my brother and sister in the car, there was Michael standing on the corner in presumably a brand new suit talking with a friend. We all yell out from the car to Michael and he turns, flashes his trademark smile, and waves back at us as we drive by. It must have been one of the happiest times of his life and is certainly one of the coolest moments as a sports fan in my life.
When you look at the numbers, Olowokandi actually had a decent NBA career. 8 points and 6 rebounds in over 500 NBA games is nothing to be sad about. But when you are a #1 overall pick, the expectations are much higher than that. I think Olowokandi could have been a good NBA center, perhaps great, if factors were different when he came into the league. The NBA game is much different then the College game. I don't think Olowokandi fully grasped that and he might have had a hard time understanding why he wasn't "the man" from the get go. The Clippers are also one of the leagues sad sack franchises and only lately has Blake Griffin seemed to have wiped away the curse of the Clippers. If Olowokandi had ended up on a team like the Spurs or the Lakers, and had not been the #1 overall pick, maybe his career would have been much different and thought about in a different light.
Despite never living up to the expectations of being a #1 overall pick - Michael Olowokandi is by far and away, Sports Card Radio's favorite player of all-time. And because he got his Economics degree from one of the best schools in the country, we know that the Kandi Man is living just fine somewhere off his $37 Million++ he made over the course of his NBA playing career. He might even have a house on the Pacific Ocean, where he wanted to be all along.......