Sports

It was his dream to go pro, but playing hoops in revolutionary Libya can be dangerous

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Credit:

Alex Owumi

Owumi (center front) with teammates in Alexandria, Egypt.

It’s every college athlete’s dream to be recruited to play for the pros. But when your recruiter is former Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, you might get more than you bargained for. Much more.

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That was the experience of American Alex Owumi whose book, “Qaddafi's Point Guard: The Incredible Story of a Professional Basketball Player Trapped in Libya's Civil War,” was published in early October.

Born in Nigeria, Owumi moved to England at age 11. He came to Boston soon after and eventually went on to play college basketball for Alcorn State in Lorman, Mississippi.

After graduating, Owumi played for pro teams in France and Macedonia, before he was recruited by Al-Nasr, a professional club in Benghazi.

He arrived in Libya on December 26th  2011, just days before the outbreak of the revolution.

Owumi remembers his sense of disbelief when he first began hearing about the nascent revolution from his teammates. “They were telling me ‘You know, the revolution from Egypt is going to spread through Libya.’ And I was saying to myself ‘There’s no way you guys are going to overthrow this dictator that’s been here for 42 years.’”

But a few weeks later, protests began to erupt throughout the city. Owumi, who lived downtown, recalls looking out his apartment window on February 14, 2011.

“That morning, when I went out to my roof, I thought it was just basic military guys. It looked like they were trying to disperse a crowd… they had jeeps with the semi-automatic machine guns on the top. I never thought they would use them.”

But they did. Owumi remembers seeing bodies drop, just before he hit the floor himself.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought they would gun down a hundred people in less than a minute - it was like a pack of ants falling.”

For the next 16 days, as the war raged on outside, Owumi was trapped in his apartment without electricity, food or running water.  “My strategy was just ‘survive how you can.’ If that meant eating roaches or worms… if that meant drinking out of a toilet… then that’s what it was. I’m proud to say, I did what I had to do to survive.”

Unable to contact anyone, Owumi watched anxiously as his cell phone battery drained. He turned it on and off periodically, hoping to receive a call.

Help finally came when a teammate was able to get through. The team’s president, an Egyptian, had managed to arrange for a car to come and take Owumi and his teammate to Egypt. They were going to get out.

But when they arrived to the checkpoints, flooded with refugees, they were forced to sleep on the floor for three days. Finally, Owumi told the BBC, he and his teammates were able to bribe their way onto a bus, and into Egypt.

After a brief stint with a team in Cairo, Owumi returned to the US for a year. He now plays for the Worcester Wolves, a basketball team from the city of Worcester, UK, which competes in the British Basketball League.

“When I left Libya, when I finally got home, I figured it all out,” Owumi says. “This whole time it wasn’t me planning out my life… No matter what circumstance you’ve been in… there’s a plan. God has made a plan for you.” 

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    Credit:

    Alex Owumi

    The view from Owumi's apartment, where he was trapped for weeks after the outbreak of Libyan Civil War.

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    Leo Hornack

    Owumi at practice in the UK for his new team, the Wooster Wolves

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    Alex Owumi

    Owumi kisses gold, just months after escaping Libya. Playing with El-Olympi, team in Alexandria, Egypt, he won the championship, and he was named MVP.

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