Tosan Evbuomwan: From Newcastle United’s academy to the NBA

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You’ll find one in many schools: the superstar student athlete.

Typically it’s someone physically superior than their peers, with athletic ability and attributes to ensure dominance across most sports.

Tosan Evbuomwan knows exactly what that feels like.

“When I was younger, sport took up most of my life and it was usually football,” Evbuomwan told BBC Sport.

“I also played a lot of rugby, track and field, cricket, tennis, pretty much everything to be honest in terms of British sport,” he added.

Born in Newcastle, the 22-year-old is speaking to BBC Sport via video chat from his new apartment in Detroit, Michigan.

He is more than 3,500 miles from where he grew up – a long way from home – but closer to achieving a dream of playing top-class basketball in the NBA.

Following the NBA Draft in June 2023, Evbuomwan signed a ‘free agent contract’ with the Detroit Pistons. In short, he’s part of the roster. There’s no guarantee of minutes on the court, but he’s able to play for their affiliated teams and take part in daily practices – affording him the chance to stake his claim for a full-time spot on the team as the new season starts next week.

It’s perhaps the first time in his life he hasn’t been an automatic selection or the ‘go-to’ guy. But it’s a challenge the 6ft 8in forward is embracing.

The journey so far

Evbuomwan’s NBA dream could have been a Premier League one.

He signed for his home-city team Newcastle United as a seven-year-old schoolboy, but by the age of 12 he realised football wasn’t for him. Although clearly talented -with the youth academy keen on keeping him – Evbuomwan had fallen out of love with the game.

“I just stopped enjoying it, to be honest,” he told BBC Sport. “So I decided to take a step back for a few years and when I started playing again it was at a much lower level with friends.

“There are a couple of guys who I played with when I was younger who are still playing. Jack Young [on loan at Ayr United] is one of them. He’s doing well. So it’s good seeing guys still going strong.”

His journey to the brink of the NBA is even more remarkable considering he only started playing organised basketball as a teenager.

He did have a basketball hoop in the garden when he was growing up, as his dad Isaac had played the sport at elite level in Nigeria and England. But the young Evbuomwan would always be out with a football instead.

“Every now and then, my dad would be out there and I’d go out with him. I never really took it seriously though,” he said.

“He would definitely beat me when I first started but it’s been a while since he got one.”

Always tall for his age group, Evbuomwan started playing for a local team at 14. After impressing, was invited to a basketball camp organised by Luol Deng – one of Britain’s most well-known basketball players, who starred in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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Only the top talent in the UK gets invited; Evbuomwan thrived during the 12-month experience.

He spent the next few years representing Great Britain at youth level and playing club basketball for the Newcastle Eagles Under-18s.

But to stand a chance of playing in the NBA, Evbuomwan needed to fulfil its entry requirements – which meant studying at an American college.

His Eagles coach Ian MacLeod made a highlights reel of and sent it to various colleges. Princeton, in New Jersey, eventually secured his services where he studied economics.

“I remember going on my official visit and being blown away,” Evbuomwan recalled. “The facilities… there’s nothing really even close in the UK especially from a basketball standpoint. So it was it was a whole new world.

“I kind of went in with no expectations – just ready to work hard. I am obviously pretty confident in my abilities, but all you know is America and that superior basketball. It was definitely a step up. I had a pretty good freshman year, there were lots of ups and downs but I kind of showed myself that I belonged to that level.”

Aiming for the NBA breakthrough

Evbuomwan played in the Pistons pre-season game against the Phoenix Suns

If Evbuomwan’s freshman year was good – the next 12 months superseded all expectations for the forward, as he was named the Ivy League player of the year, a prestigious award.

After proving to himself and scouts in the United States that he had what it takes to compete at the highest level, Evbuomwan decided to skip his fourth and final year in college – instead choosing to make himself eligible for NBA selection.

And although he wasn’t selected high enough to ensure a compulsory roster spot, the free agent contract he was offered allows him the best chance of gracing an NBA court soon.

Having already represented the Pistons during the NBA Summer League, he’s now hoping to follow that up with a regular-season game.

“Contracts are there to be played for. So, you know, just looking forward to it, the opportunity to show what I can do,” he said.

The 22-year-old is part of Pistons head coach Monty Williams’ plans. Featuring in their opening pre-season game against the Phoenix Suns, Evbuomwan shared a court with household names Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.

“Every next stage in in my journeys is a step up. I have a lot of confidence in myself, I know what I can do. So again, I definitely feel like I belong here,” Evbuomwan added.

The NBA season starts overnight on 24-25 October, with the defending champions the Denver Nuggets hosting the LA Lakers.

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