Updated: Jun 11, 2022
Growing up as the youngest of five children in Nigeria, Adem Bona was a long shot to make a name for himself in a sport that’s still gaining popularity in his home country. After a series of events that led him to playing in Turkey and now in the United States for Prolific Prep (CA), Bona is now one of the top-ranked prospects in the high school class of 2022. At 6’10” and 225 pounds, Bona has a rare blend of quick feet, a strong frame, twitchy athleticism, a high motor, and a competitive mentality. He prides himself on being a defensive stopper and loves to bring leadership and energy to his team. With only a few years of competitive basketball under his belt, Bona has been able to accelerate the learning curve and is just still only scratching the surface of his overall upside.
As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Bona discusses growing up in Nigeria, his basketball journey, his adjustment to Prolific Prep, his recruitment update, his off-court interests, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2022 prospect Adem Bona, from Lagos, Nigeria:
Pro Insight: Talk a bit about your background.
Adem Bona: I’m originally from Nigeria. From a family of five, I have four siblings and I’m the last child. I moved to Turkey like five years ago and I’ve been playing basketball for the past four years. That’s basically the summary of my background.
PI: Any athletes in the family?
AB: No, I’m the only one. There are no other professional athletes in the family, but we all played soccer when we were young for fun. We competed at the school level, but not seriously. We’d just do it for fun. Yeah, I’m the only athlete in the family. Probably the only one who can play basketball in the family.
PI: Where do you get your height from?
AB: It’s probably going to be my dad, he’s a really big dude. They called my dad “The Elephant” in Africa because he’s really big [laughs]. So it’s mostly from my dad. My mom is around 5’9”- 6’0” tall, but my dad was like 6’10”. So they called him “The Elephant,” because he’s really big.
PI: Are your siblings tall as well, or did you get all of the height?
AB: No, my siblings, they are tall, also...but I kind of grew over them and I’m kind of the tallest in the family right now. But my brothers are tall, one is like 6’8” and my other brother is like 6’7”. They’re also big, but I’m kind of the biggest right now.
PI: What are your current measurements?
AB: I’m 6’10”, 224 pounds and a 7’3” wingspan.
PI: How did you start playing basketball?
AB: That’s one of the funniest stories of my life [laughs]. It all started one night when I went with my mom to the store and I was trying to pee, so I had to go pee behind the car. So a dude saw my head over the car and was like “damn this boy is tall” [laughs]. And he called me and was like, “hey, do you play basketball?” and I was like, “no, I play soccer” and he was like, “why don’t you come try basketball?” and I said, “I’m not interested.” Then he followed me back into the store when I went to help my mom and he asked my mom, “can your son come play basketball with me?” and my mom was like, “nah, everybody is trying to get money or trying to do stuff” [laughs] because my mom doesn’t believe that basketball is serious like the rest of the country. So my mom is like “no.” My brothers told her, “why don’t you just let him go? It’s not going to change anything. He’s not going to do nothing. He’s going to play soccer, he’s going to play basketball. Just let him do it.” So that’s how it started, basically. One day, Christopher Wilson, he took me to the basketball court and he started teaching me everything about basketball in Nigeria. So I played basketball in Nigeria for one year, but it wasn’t serious. It was like street basketball in Nigeria for one year. Then I had the opportunity to move to Turkey. So I moved to Turkey and started playing serious basketball in Turkey, going to trainings and everything. I think that’s when my basketball skills started developing and everything. From Turkey, I moved to the United States and I’m playing for Prolific Prep. Yeah, that’s it.
PI: Did you feel like you were naturally good at basketball from the jump?
AB: When I started playing basketball, to be honest, I wasn’t good at all. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t dribble, my coordination was terrible. At first I wasn’t good. I couldn’t do anything. The only thing I could do was run because I used to play soccer. And I can jump. So that was the only thing I’d do, just run and throw the ball ahead and try to do something [smiles]. When I started basketball I wasn’t naturally good and everything, but my skills were just raw. Basketball is not a sport in Nigeria so it’s like a weird sport to us at first. So it wasn’t something I’d been used to for years or something I’d been watching. The first time I played basketball I had never watched a basketball game. So it was a new thing for me and I couldn’t do anything. So I was terrible at it in the beginning.
PI: How did you wind up going from Lagos, Nigeria to Istanbul, Turkey?
AB: So I was playing street basketball in Nigeria. I was playing for fun and nothing serious. I kept playing and I felt like I was getting better at this everyday. My mom had the opportunity to move to Turkey [got a job in Turkey], so a coach from Turkey saw a video of me and he liked the video. Well, at first I had an invite to a school in the United States, but my mom didn’t want me to come to the United States so I stayed in Nigeria. So a coach [from Turkey] saw a video of me and he liked it. He reached out to my mom and Christopher [Wilson] who was training me in Nigeria and asked, “can we bring your son to Turkey?” and my mom agreed. It was all over a video of me playing street basketball and the coach liked it and wanted to bring me to Turkey.
PI: So Christopher Wilson would make videos of you and share them with various coaches and programs?
AB: So basically he’s not just a trainer, he’s a basketball player, also. He would make films of me and himself and send them to some coaches in the States and some coaches in Europe. The coach from Turkey liked me and he was like, “yeah we’ll bring him over.” My mom was in Turkey already, so he contacted her and was like, “can we bring your son over?” and yeah.
PI: What was the adjustment like going from streetball in Nigeria to organized basketball in Turkey?
AB: It was difficult at the beginning. I had to move to the country and I don’t know any word in their language. I didn't know any bit of Turkish when I moved to Turkey. I had to go to school and deal with the coaches and I also don’t know any English. So it was different for me improving from my first day because I don’t understand anything, I just do what I see. I can’t listen or do anything. But when I started catching up with them, everything started feeling better and easier. So I started learning Turkish and started training properly because I can hear what the coaches are saying. So for the first year it was difficult for me, but the second year it was easier because I started to understand the language and everything.
PI: When did you feel like you could be good at basketball?
AB: Um, I don’t know…oh it was when I moved to Turkey. So when I moved to Turkey, I wasn’t playing in anything because I had to be a citizen to play in a real game. Like foreigners can’t play in an amatuer league in Turkey. So I couldn’t play with them, so I was training with my coach for two years everyday. No games, just workouts. And I got invited to the national team by just working out. So that’s when I was like, “oh, if I can get invited to the national team without playing any games then that means I’m getting better and probably doing good” and I was like, “yeah I think I’m doing good or getting better at basketball.”
PI: You participated in some FIBA tournaments for Turkey, how did that boost your confidence as a player?
AB: It boosted my confidence a lot because I was an unknown player to someone competing for the whole country. Just like, you’re on the frontline fighting for your country from nowhere. It helped a lot and boosted my confidence playing in a serious competition. That was like my first serious competition. It helped me a lot, I got recognized, like the whole of Europe knew me and most of the teams knew me after the competition. So I got a little bit of recognition and a little bit of a confidence boost.
PI: Describe the basketball culture in Nigeria.
AB: I think since I started playing basketball I started to know more about how Nigeria is into basketball. I feel like Nigerians, there was a [basketball] culture built before me, like Hakeem Olajuwon is Nigerian, but he played for the United States. I think in Nigeria we have the ability, the talent, the size, but we just don’t have a platform to show ourselves. I feel like in the NBA there are so many Nigerians in the league. Like we’re good, but we don’t have the platform to show more of ourselves. I feel like there are so many good players in Nigeria that can play and that can do better than what they’re doing right now. In Nigeria we don’t have...I’m not going to say the technology, it’s just like we don’t have the things to help us get better. We don’t have the basic stuff like the balls, the shoes, the gym. But I think in the near future Nigeria is going to be a good powerhouse country in basketball.
PI: Why come to the US to play if you were succeeding in Turkey?
AB: So I decided to come to the states because I felt like in Turkey I had done what I needed to do. I felt like if you’re on top then you have nothing to run after. I felt like in Turkey if I stayed there then I was not going to get better and I want to get better. I knew coming to the States was going to be a huge step and challenge for me...and I wanted the challenge. So I decided to come and take the challenge and improve everyday. Not to lay back and [be] like, “yeah, I’ve done everything I need to do.” There’s more things in front of me. That’s not my end goal, to be one of the best players in Turkey. I want to be one of the best in the world and the United States is where everyone comes to play the best.
PI: How did you end up at Prolific Prep?
AB: So I was searching for a team to come to in the States and Jeremy [Russotti] and Philippe Doherty reached out to me and told me about their program, how they help Africans improve, and how they help players improve and get them in the spotlight. They showed me a bunch of stuff like how to improve as a person and as a player. So I felt like that was going to be the best for me. Like playing here and playing at a high level of high school basketball. I felt like that was going to be great for me and I chose Prolific Prep.
PI: What was the off-court adjustment like coming to the United States?
AB: Off the court coming to the United States was difficult for me because my mom is there in Turkey and so I had to leave my mom to come down here to live alone. Getting into the plane, having no relationships down in the States, coming by myself...it was kind of a challenging decision for me, but I feel like this decision is going to help me more in the future. Help me at the basketball level. That’s why I made the decision to move.
PI: Has the United States lived up to your expectations?
AB: Yeah, it has lived up to it and it has been great for me because I’ve met so many great people. Because before I came I had the mindset of, “oh Americans, they’re rude” and stuff like that. But I came and I’ve met so many great people and I haven’t met someone that’s kind of crazy like in the description that’s in my head [laughs]. Most of the people I’ve met have been nice, so it’s lived up to the expectations.
PI: How about the adjustment on the court?
AB: I think it has been good for me and it’s also important for me to adjust well. I’ve only been here for 8-9 months and learning the American style of play is not easy because it’s a fast-paced game and it’s kind of more technical. You have to think quickly, play fast, run fast, and everything. It’s way different than the style of play I’m used to playing in Europe...slow everything down, try to outsmart the other, try to draw up a crazy play and everything. So it’s way different than what I’ve been used to. It’s good for me to learn the two different styles of play, the quick play and the slow play. So I think it has been a good advantage for me.