“Coach Mustapha Gagari Dogo of AHIP basketball stood by me from the start of my basketball career, and I’m appreciative of his passion for youth around the community, he is truly an inspiration for youth, Gaga was always present when you needed him” – Harry Ezenibe
I am from Igbo-Ukwu, Anambra State, Eastern Nigeria in West Africa. I was born and raised in a Christian family but grew up in a Muslim community; Kano, Kano State. The community in which I was raised had a lot of passionate youth in sports and other life aspirations, but with less exposure for a life time; a community that is underdeveloped with low infrastructures and prone to constant religious conflicts. It was a tough environment; religious conflicts are no joke; those experiences leave you traumatized and seeking for solutions that are out of reach.
Fortunately, I had a supportive family that protected me and kept me focused. As I found a passion in basketball, it redirected my energy to a more positive outlook. The game was my safe house, my safe place, my safe space, and a great tool that created opportunities of a life time to myself, my family, and others.
Before getting noticed while playing with the Adolescent Health and Information Project (AHIP) in 2004 at the Annual Jafar Paki Basketball Tournament held in Kaduna State, Northern Nigeria, Harry had not yet been playing organized basketball. Inspired by his brothers (Emmanuel and Kingsley), he immediately fell in love with the game and it changed his life forever. From there, he impressed, and was noticed by Colonel Sale Bala, and also, Col Sam Ahmedu of the Dodan Warriors Basketball who helped to expose him until he was invited to Giants of Africa Camp in 2005.
These basketball opportunities posed adversities that taught Harry life skills on how to be resilient and persevere. “I had dreams of making it like any other Nigerian kid, any other African kid… But the road became tougher than expected.” Scholarships came from numerous school in the United States, name it: South Kent Prep, JacksonVille College and Sam Houston State University. All to no avail. Student Visa’s were not approved, it felt like the end of the world. However, he focused on maintaining a strong and committed relationship with AHIP; Adolescent Health and Information Project, the organizatiom which served as an avenue for youth empowerment and community development. To add to this, Harry was an ambassador for Peace through the United States Agency for International Development sponsored Basketball 4 Peace program, using basketball as a tool to influence lives and contribute to areas prone to religious conflicts and violence
As he aspired to continue the game of basketball as a safe house, things did not just work out at all times, there were struggles and other living conditions that comes with the game. “finding the right apparell for the game; shoes, jerseys and other necessities were really hard to get, travelling with a team, or raising money to be part of a road trip, and sharing hotel rooms that could barely accomodate the number of people in it, there are harsher conditions.” Having the status of an athlete was cool, but the living conditions were not cool at all Harry says. A lot of fortunate athletes with great support from family and friends tend to get by with the conditions. Harry further explains that there were events were they played for the State during a National Sports Festival Regional qualifiers which most athlete had terrible accomodations. “I remember arriving for the games and they told us that we will be sleeping in classrooms with bonks, chairs and tables, these classrooms had no windows and protected doors so we are exposed to a lot, don’t want to go into details. You sacrifice a lot! Financially, physically, emotionally, mentally… Most times it felt like we had no vision or priorities set, but it was for the love of the game, we were happy.” However, it was the love of the game which propelled Harry through tougher times. Harry had a priority, he had a vision and felt that there was a light towards the end of his tunnel.
With proper guidance in the game, Harry feels blessed and fortunate to look back, and to know that he had a great support system, not only in his family but in a Coach, Mustapha Gagari. According to Harry, if there was one man who will stay late or available early mornings helping to develop his game, it was Coach Gagari, “Gaga” he calls him for short. “Coach Mustapha Gagari Dogo of AHIP basketball stood by me from the start of my basketball career, and I’m appreciative of his passion for youth around the community, he is truly an inspiration for youth, Gaga was always present when you needed him.” Gaga taught him how to practice and play past the idea of struggles, he was very positive, not just with Harry but others, he practice with the team and coached them as well, he had a responsibility to instill confidence and growth in the lives of these youth, and have coached numerous players who have currently attained success both in Academics and Sports; these players are a few of Gaga’s result; Harry Ezenibe (Graduated from saint Mary’s University Canada – 2014), Ikeobi Uchegbu (Graduated and played with Harry at Saint Mary’s University Canada – 2010/2011), Moses Ayegba (Graduated from Georgetown University 2014, and Masters at University of Nebraska USA – 2015), William Gabriel Otor (attending University of New Hampshire – USA), Muktar G. Ibrahim and Mathew Esiegbe (Currently attending High Schools in the United States). Gaga may look back and know that he has pushed a lot of youth to greater heights. “Gaga’s dedication was eminent. He had a vision; he encourage, sacrificed, and motivated us all, I could talk endlessly about his support to the focus I had as a growing up youth in basketball.”
Harry continued to involve himself in the community through AHIP basketball outreach department while competing in the team’s basketball tournaments and games. However, all hopes were not lost as opportunities to go to Europe as an exchange athlete revived his basketball dream. “I was fortunate to have recognized every opportunity present in the adversities I faced, those little opportunities created future plans.” In every blurred situation, Harry was able to find clarity. He looked beyond his struggle and the lack of opportunities surrounding the city he grew up in. He wanted and desired change, it came and he took advantage. “I always said if I don’t play in the NBA, I will work in the NBA –My mum always said there is power in the tongue, the words and action.” Things work out for the best. When you have a dream, a goal or vision, you are the only one who understands how you tend to achieve your goal, even if it does not seem the same way to others.