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Basketball player Ademola Okulaja dies of cancer at the age of 46

Dhe message hits the basketball community in Germany to the core. Ademola Okulaja, the former national player alongside Dirk Nowitzki, has died according to information from the FAZ. There was no official confirmation until early Tuesday evening. But companions and teammates had heard of the fate of the Berliner. “That shakes me deeply,” said Drazen Tomic, once a teammate of Okulaja also in the national team, on Tuesday when asked: “I see his cheeky smile in my mind’s eye, our warrior no longer there?”

The “Warrior” was Okulaja’s nickname. Actually, this reputation did not fit his character. So friendly, speaking in a soft voice. “Yes, off the field he had another, lovely side,” said Tomic. Okulaja gave up nothing on the basketball field. The combination of talent, athleticism (2.06 meters at 105 kilograms) and commitment brought the German, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Berlin, to the national team early on, at the age of twenty in 1995.

There he met at the end of the century on the three years younger player of the century Dirk Nowitzki. Okulaja seemed to be overshadowed by the tall blond, but played an important role in the German team: fourth at the 2003 European Championships in Turkey, third at the World Cup twenty years ago. A sensation. What would have been possible if the second best basket shooter behind Nowitzki, the strong rebounder, could also have taken part in the EM 2005? A knee injury forced him to take a break. The Germans came second.

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“A blow for German basketball”

To this day, the highly praised and no less talented successors are trying to build on the achievements of the Nowitzki/Okulaja generation. Some managed what was denied him: a longer-term commitment in the NBA. Despite his extraordinarily successful time on the famous college team at the University of North Carolina, he had to give up his dream after three attempts. Instead, Okulaja showed what he was capable of all over Europe: three-pointers, dunks, defensive. Whether in Barcelona or in Moscow. Wherever he played, deep marks remained.

The 172-time national player said in 2009 that he had recovered from cancer diagnosed in 2008 during his time in Bamberg. Not much later he withdrew from the floor and brought Dennis Schröder to the NBA as a mediator, taking care of Daniel Theis, among others with Boston in the semifinals. Okulaja has now lost his last fight against the disease. “It’s a blow for German basketball,” says Tomic. Okulaja would have turned 47 in the summer.

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