The name, Abdulaziz Atta might not readily ring a bell but mention his mother’s name to anyone in Corporate Nigeria and you will quickly be told she is one of Nigeria’s dynamic women atop the corporate ladder. Abdul’s ageless mother, Bola Atta, is the Group Director, Marketing and Corporate Communications, United Bank for Africa, UBA Plc. She is also the CEO of UBA Foundation, the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of the UBA Group. Abdul is blessed with a strong support system. Interestingly, the rising basketball star is not all about his mother. He is trying to make his own mark in the world of basketball. He is hardworking, quiet and has aspiration to make his parents proud in his area of gifting. His love for basketball began at an early age of 11 in Montreal, Canada though he was a huge football fan back then. It wasn’t long before he mastered his craft and got an invite to play for the state team in his first year. Abdul’s combination of rebound and defense skills, athleticism and passion makes him one of the rising basketball players destined for greatness in the world of basketball. Abdul’s promising career highlight include his Bronze winning outing with Team Quebec, the state team and he broke a record for the most rebounds in the country for the Canada Games. Some few months back, the unassuming young man opened up to Abuja Standard’s Publisher, SEYI ONIFADE about his promising career and influential mother. Enjoy!
For the benefit of our readers, tell us about yourself. Let’s have a sneak peek into your personality, who is Abdul Atta?
I would describe myself as an old soul with a touch of young blood. I do occasionally goof around with my mates but I am generally a reserved and quiet person. People are usually intimidated to come talk to me because I look unapproachable but I really do love having company and good conversations with everyone I meet. My rough and tough exterior actually hides my large teddy bear of a personality. I am also a very passionate person, and it shows when I talk about the things that I love most, like technology or politics, and of course with basketball.
How would you describe your childhood?
My childhood was blessed and joyous. I was lucky to be in a fortunate situation where I could succeed in school, and still have fun and not worry about many things. My parents were strict but fair and protected me from hardships that I may have known in another situation. I am thankful for my amazing childhood that built the foundations of who I am as an individual today.
Let’s talk about basketball, tell us what really inspired your passion for the sport? How did you get into the game of basketball?
I started when I was 11 in Montreal. People assumed I loved basketball because I was tall at a young age (1.80m at 12 years old) but I was a huge football fan. My team was Chelsea and I just loved Drogba and Lampard at the time, with Petr Cech as our goalie. But I decided to try it out just because basketball seemed popular at the time. A few months later, the coaches started playing me more often and I got an invite to play for the state team in my first year. That’s when I knew the sport was for me. What really inspired me and drove me to keep playing was my competitiveness. I hated losing more than anyone on the court and I could not stand being second best to anyone in my position. And so I would always stay after practice to work on my game to make sure that I was better than the next person and every other kid in my league.
So how has it been playing College Basketball with Brebeuf?
Playing in Brebeuf was a fantastic experience. I changed schools to go there because the basketball reputation was so prestigious and I could not give up the opportunity to play with them. I loved every moment of it and learnt so much about the game of basketball from my head coach. I also played with older players who taught me the fundamentals of how to be great in my sport. Playing College Basketball with McGill was an experience similar to American colleges, but the game is more cerebral I would say. A lot of strategy and improvising is required on the court, much more than in American colleges where athleticism is key. But playing smart always outplays being athletic, and I took pride in learning how to play basketball like a game of chess. Analyzing my opponents weaknesses, watching the game unfold and adopting different strategies to help my team win.
Tell us what has been your greatest challenge thus far as a rising basketball star?
My greatest challenge was entering university at McGill and playing under a different coach. We didn’t particularly get along, which was problematic in the long run. I learnt a lot and improved my game but he didn’t feel the need to play me as much as I wanted. It was difficult watching my teammates from the sidelines when I knew I could be out there playing. And when our team was stricken with injuries, and I was called on the court, I performed admirably even in his own eyes. But there was no connection or trust between my new coach, and it proved extremely problematic in the long run.
Tell us about your best moments?
My favourite moment would be when I broke a record for the most rebounds in the country for the Canada Games, playing for Team Quebec, the state team. We finished with bronze that year, and I remember my parents and I were driving for 7 hours to Brown University in the USA for a camp that started the next day of my tournament. As I woke up from my car ride nap, I saw a text from my coach congratulating me for breaking a record. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I checked online and saw that I broke the record for most rebounds in Canada in the tournament. It was a great moment in my basketball career, to realize that my hard work had accomplished something so monumental as being one of the best rebounders in the country.
What would you say are your strengths on the court? And what areas are you trying to improve on?
My strength has always been rebounding and defense. I always believe that no one on the court can score on me. I would take pride in my defense because defense wins championships but I do need to improve my offensive skills a bit more, particularly my outside shooting and dribbling. It would make me even better overall.
Tell us how difficult was it for you to convince your parents, particularly your mom who is a top corporate figure to support your basketball dream?
My family from the start would always warn each and every one of my coaches that ‘school came first’ they would not mind me going on trips around the world for basketball, as long as I brought my homework with me and my report card stayed top notch. My mother especially was supportive of my desire to play basketball at the highest level because she saw the talent that many coaches believed that I have. She understood that at some point if I wanted to play professionally, that it would be my decision to make and she never got in the way of my thought process during my journey.
Take us through your educational background?
I went to primary school in Lagos in Lycee Francais Louis Pasteur, and then did high school in Canada. From there, I graduated from McGill University after three years in Liberal Arts.
Who had the strongest influence on you while growing up?
My mother no doubt. She showed me the values of perseverance, kindness, confidence in the face of distress, and hard work. These values are in my opinion very much overlooked by most, and my mother made it a point of emphasis in her life, which affected my life for the better. When I see my mother I see a superhero. I did not care much all for all the heavily male-centric role models of our society as a boy normally should because I saw too much value in my mother’s personality that made me a strong, level-headed and focused man later on in my life.
How would you best describe your mother? And how does it feel being the son of a boardroom colossus?
My mother as I said before is one of the strongest people I know. It really is funny when I google her name and she comes up everywhere for accomplishing things that I can never keep track of. And it doesn’t help that she is also so incredibly humble. She never tells my sister and me whenever she is being awarded for something else, and we always find out a few weeks later because she forgot to tell us.
Mentally, where is your mind at for the future?
Right now, I am focusing on getting into Law school. As much as I love basketball, a backup plan is necessary for a good and stable life. Legal understanding is so important in our society today and is often misunderstood as an easy way to make money and have a successful career when it is much more than that, legal knowledge is understanding the fundamentals and underlings of every modern society, and that kind of understanding is invaluable in every field. So many people would benefit from knowing the ins and outs of the law, and I want to be one of the people benefiting too.
You are a Canadian passport holder; do you feel more Canadian now than a Nigerian? And any dream of international basketball with Nigeria’s D’ Tigers?
In my heart, Nigeria comes first. My parents are Nigerian, my sister is Nigerian, and it is the country I grew up in and lived in for ten years plus. I love Canada and the experiences it brought me, but I can never imagine calling myself Canadian before Nigerian. And I would love to play for D’Tigers. I know I would probably be one of the youngest there and will have a lot to learn from the senior players, but it would be great to get an opportunity to play for my country in the future.
For any Nigerian kid coming to play basketball in Canada, do you have any advice for them?
First, get ready for the cold. It isn’t a cliché, Canada is one of the coldest regions in the world and it does affect every aspect of your life. It can make you sick and that can hurt your game. You really have to take care of yourself during the winter in Canada. Also, definitely try to immerse yourself in the culture. It is entirely different from anywhere in Nigeria, and sometimes that can make you feel lonely and misunderstood with your teammates. If you immerse yourself in the culture, you get closer with your teammates and they eventually play better because of better chemistry amongst one another.
Off the court, how do you unwind?
I play video games occasionally. It helps me decompose and relax my mind from stressful basketball games or practices. Funnily enough, I love playing basketball video games so I never really take a break from the game.
Let’s talk about your style. Are you a fashion freak? What’s your style?
To me, style is to express yourself and your personality without words, through your clothes abd accessories. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fashion freak, more of a fashion amateur. I still have a lot to learn, but thankfully with my mother’s modeling background, I’m pretty sure I’m a good dresser. I really love accessories. I love watches that make my outfits stand out. But what does it for me the most are my shoes. I may have more pairs of shoes than my sister. And sometimes it is hard to find the latest pair of Yeezys in size 15 but I compensate in buying from other brands in bulk, like Nike or Jordans, and Gucci or LV if I am lucky enough to find my size.
What’s your favourite Nigerian food?
Amala and Suya (a spicy meat skewer) 100%. If I come back to Nigeria without eating one of those two things then my trip was a disaster. And everyone in my family knows this.
Finally, if your life were a song, what track would it be and why?
Glow by Drake in More Life. This track describes my sentiments about what the future holds for me more than what my life currently is. The main line from the song goes like this ‘watch out for me I’m bound to glow’. I believe that no one can stop me from glowing up, but myself. In my definition, it means to go through a grandiose personal transformation and reach a status of greatness. It’s this mindset that motivates me every day, on the court when playing, or in the classroom when I am studying. One day, I dream to look back positively on my young adult life and appreciate all the difficult steps I would have had to endure to fully glow up. And I hope my close ones are there to see it too, and of course glow up alongside me.