By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Two young basketballers are set to follow their hoop dreams, embarking for the US on college scholarships.
Oyiti Amum and Daniel Akuei, both from Dandenong-based Red Roo Basketball, are heading to Northeast Community College in Nebraska this month.
Just 12 new scholarship spots are on offer for hundreds of hopefuls.
For Mr Amum, it will be his first time in the US – indeed his first time living away from home and his Cranbourne family of four younger siblings.
“I’ll see how it goes for me. It’s going to be a whole lot different – the players are faster, stronger and more athletic.
“It’s colder over there but that’s just one of those things – you’ve got to seize the opportunity.”
He’ll be starting a business degree as part of his two-year scholarship – with a plan to transfer to a senior college to complete his education.
He has a taste for flamboyant footwear – such as a teal set of LeBron James. He hopes to convert his business acumen into a sneaker business one day.
His basketball journey started six or seven years ago under coaches Trevor Burnette and Joe Hooks at Dandenong and Springvale.
Accustomed to soccer, Mr Amum said it took him two years to find his seemingly-effortless foot and hand co-ordination.
He stuck at it because he had a feeling of how good he could be.
He admires NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant but Mr Amum says he doesn’t emulate anyone else as a high-scoring shooting guard.
“I play like myself. I’m unique in the way I play.”
He joined one of the first Red Roo teams founded by Keysborough businessman James Kerr in 2014 – which he credits for setting him on this scholarship path.
“It’s helped me with anger management, to control myself, to communicate properly, with social skills and to be a leader.”
Meanwhile Mr Akuei is looking forward to returning to Nebraska for the second year of his scholarship.
He sees Mr Kerr as his mentor. “He really pushes me, makes sure I’m on top of things and not getting distracted.”
“He makes sure I look at the bigger picture of things.”
Studying exercise science, he said college had been tough at the start. Getting homesick, getting used to different cultures, and even getting his first “magical” experience of snow.
Mr Akuei has now got used to the game’s quicker and more athletic brand in the US college system. He’s steadily working towards his goal of being a professional player and finishing a uni degree.
“Basketball is basically the same wherever you go – you’ve still got to put through the hoops.
“I think it’s a good life experience. You’re eating different foods, being around different people.”
His advice to up-and-comers is to “stay committed – keep keeping at it”.
Red Roo founder Mr Kerr tells his proteges to join the workforce or train in higher learning – “earn or learn”.
“What we’re trying to do is help these young men be better Australians.
“I’ve got enough resources and energy to ensure these individuals are well qualified to get that opportunity.
“But they have to do the work.”
At the outset, he saw basketball as a way to unlock the athletic potential of his players. For Mr Amum and Mr Akuei, it could change their lives.
“In America, it’s like the light switch is constantly on.
“Here the switch gets turned on or off but in the US it is on all the time.”