Adam Seiko of the Aztecs finds play and himself on a trip to Africa

What did you do during the summer?

San Diego State Guard Adam Seiko visited Rwanda, a small landlocked country in East Africa.

He did so because he played for the Ugandan national team at FIBA ​​AfroBasket, the quadrennial Continental Championships which took place at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda in August and September. He did this because he obtained Ugandan citizenship through his mother, who arrived in the United States pregnant with him in 1997. He did so because he obtained his passport two days ago. before his flight.

He did it because two years earlier his younger brother was playing in a high school event and his mom was sitting next to an ESPN basketball writer.

Eva Saira Ariko chatted with Mike Schmitz. She mentioned that her son, Arthur Kaluma, played for Dream City Christian High in Glendale, Arizona. She also mentioned that she is from Uganda.

Excuse me, did you say Uganda?

Yes, and Arthur has a brother who plays for San Diego State.

This is how Uganda found 40% of its starting lineup at AfroBasket, where it had the best performance in the eventful history of the national program and took a few steps before reaching the semi-finals. . Schmitz was a Ugandan assistant to George Galanopoulos, who currently coaches the Texas Legends of the G League and met Schmitz when they were on the staff of the G League’s Bakersfield Jam.

A few days later, Seiko received a text inviting her to play for the Silverbacks, the name of the Ugandan national team.

“I couldn’t say no; I couldn’t say no, ”Seiko says. “I told them, ‘Wherever it is, wherever you are, I want to be part of the team as soon as possible.'”

As soon as possible took almost two years, four flights and 48 hours of travel, but Seiko finally slipped on the red, yellow and black uniform of her mother’s homeland. The 6-foot-3 goalkeeper started off and averaged 13.0 points in the five games for Uganda, second on the team behind his brother’s 13.2.

“Having my mom and my little brother there was like a dream, something so surreal that I can’t even explain it,” Seiko says. “I stutter a lot when I talk about it because it was a blessing to have my brother on the bus with me, my mom watching us at the edge of the court. Just a dream. I’m glad I got to experience this.

It hardly happened. Kaluma, one of the 50 best draft rookies who is now a 6-7 rookie at Creighton, had better luck getting a U.S. passport and played in the AfroBasket playoffs earlier in the summer (after February games were scrapped when half of the team contracted COVID-19). Seiko applied when the pandemic first hit and couldn’t make an appointment to finalize the process until last August, spending hours on the phone on hold, refreshing her computer browser over and over again in the hope that an hour would open.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “It was frustrating.”

The first leg of the flight was from San Diego to Las Vegas. Then a snafu of paperwork delayed him overnight. Then a flight to Chicago, then to Belgium, then to Rwanda.

He had four days to get used to the time change and international basketball ahead of the opening game against Senegal. Uganda got smashed, 93-55, but Seiko scored 12 points, a record for the team. Two days later, he had 20 in an 80-66 victory over Cameroon, which matches the Silverbacks’ victory in AfroBasket history.

This brought them into a play-in match against Nigeria, coached by Mike Brown, for a place in the quarterfinals. They won it 80-68 in one of the tournament’s biggest surprises before Cape Verde knocked them out 79-71.

Seiko has played a bigger role with Uganda than it has in three seasons at SDSU, where he’s mostly come off the bench and never averaged more than 4.2 points. He regularly covered the opposing team’s best perimeter player. He created more dribbling than college and had six assists in the quarterfinals (he has a 0.8 SDSU average). He spoke in team meetings and movie shows.

He also made 46.9% of his 3s (15 of 32) after plunging to a low of 32.9% last season. (International and collegiate lines are the same distance.)

One of the reasons was the softer, lighter FIBA ​​ball with tighter seams and multi-colored panels, which he admits felt more secure in his hands.

Another:

“There was a mental side to it,” Seiko says. “I had all the confidence in the world for these games, realizing that I represent the national team and that people in Uganda and the United States depend on me and want to see me play well. I don’t take this as pressure. I take it as they want to see me succeed. It was definitely the best shooting performance I have ever had.

Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher noticed the difference a week after preseason training, where Seiko became the team manager and makes a strong case to start.

“Adam has always been focused, he just seems a little more focused,” Dutcher said. “You represent a country, you play basketball and you play meaningful minutes in these games, that makes the difference. Anytime you play that kind of competition, that kind of event, it can only help you, and I think it helped it.

“I think it’s just confidence, it’s experience. He’s a fifth year senior. He knows how to play, he knows where he’s supposed to be, he shoots the ball extremely well, he’s become a better playmaker. He’s just developed his game. Now is the time for him to step up. “

There is something else, however.

The players were mostly confined to the FIBA ​​hotel, but bus rides to the arena and training gyms took them through low-income neighborhoods and dirt roads in a country where more than half of the 13 million inhabitants live below the international poverty line ($ 1.90 per person). daytime). There was also a moving trip to the Kigali genocide memorial where more than 250,000 people are buried as a result of the ethnic murders of 1994.

Africa’s continuing financial difficulties also affected their team. In the days leading up to the quarter-final, the president of the Ugandan Basketball Federation told media that the Silverbacks risked disqualification for failing to repay 360 million Ugandan shillings ($ 100,000) in loans from the FIBA, the world’s sport governing body, to fund the trip to Rwanda. He called this a “worrying situation” and potentially “major embarrassment for the country”, writing a letter to Rwanda’s first lady asking for emergency assistance.

Seiko, who had never been to Africa, returned with renewed confidence to the field and a renewed prospect of it.

“Seeing the infrastructure and what people are going through there and how they live, you know, that was a reality check,” he says. “I understand life is not the same in America as it is in other places, but it’s definitely a reality check that these people are much worse. Knowing that the opportunities I have in America are amazing, being able to play the game that I love every day, having these facilities and people around me who want to help me, I appreciate it even more.

His mother traveled to Uganda, which borders Rwanda, after the tournament. He didn’t, having already missed the first week of classes at the SDSU. He hopes to continue the college season as the Silverbacks attempt to qualify for the 2023 FIBA ​​World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.

While in Rwanda, team officials presented him with a Ugandan passport.

“I can’t wait, honestly,” Seiko said. “People want my jersey there. The children admire the team. I can’t wait to go there, to meet people, to see things, just to show them that I love our country.

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