The Golden State Warriors will play their first National Basketball Association Finals game in over 40 years on Thursday night in Oakland, California.
While their historic playoff run has been headlined by stars such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, back-up center Festus Ezeli, of Benin City, Nigeria, has quietly been putting together a solid postseason of his own.
Festus averaged only 11 minutes a game during the regular season and did not see much playing time in the first two rounds of the playoffs against New Orleans and Memphis.
That changed in the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets. He averaged nearly 16 minutes a game, peaking in the series winning game five, when he played 28 minutes, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds as the Warriors advanced to the Finals with a 104-90 victory. The Warriors reserve also scored 10 points while playing 18 minutes in Golden State’s 115-80 romp over Houston in game three.
Ezeli’s NBA success would have come as a shock to anyone who knew him 10 years ago. He lived in Benin City, Nigeria, until the age of 14, when he was sent to live with his uncle in the United States.
While his parents wanted him to become a doctor, Ezeli found a different passion as a result of his move: basketball. Having never played before, it took a while before Festus had the rules of the game down, but once he figured them out, his 6 ft. 11 in. (2.11 meters) frame and athletic ability took care of the rest.
His performance in front of scouts at the 2007 Reebok All-America camp earned him a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, where he played all four years of college while majoring in economics. Late in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, Golden State selected Ezeli and he’s been a reliable back-up since. Maybe his postseason performance will get him off the bench for good.
Festus figures to be an important part of the Warriors team that will take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven game NBA Finals.
Ezeli and starting center Andrew Bogut, who is from Australia, will have to use their size to contain Cleveland’s Russian center Timofey Mozgov, who stands 7 ft. 1 in. (2.16 meters) and has averaged nearly 10 points and eight rebounds a game this postseason.
Unfortunately, Ezeli missed practice on Saturday due to an illness and is listed as day to day, but the Warriors are hoping that he’ll be 100% in time for the series opener on Thursday night. If he is, then fans will want to add one more name to their list of players to watch in this star-studded series.
This blog post was written by VOA Intern Jonah Haskell.