Today’s blog will be a bit different… I started this year with an idea to bring the spotlight on some people who were doing some amazing things on bringing the light of God to their unconventional areas of career, to really get an understanding of how their faith has been shaped in the face of career paths that not many have followed.
And so, it’s not perfect and perhaps needs some more work, and although I would have loved to capture it on camera; I bring to you our first guest, Daniel Ajuka and his journey of Christ and Basketball.
Read and be blessed…
1. What got you into basketball? And how long have you been playing?
I have taken up basketball seriously, since the age of 14. I come from a multi-sport background. Right from birth, I was privileged to be surrounded by a wide range of sports; football, athletics, fencing, skating, tennis, fives, squash, racquetball, hockey, rugby and the list can go on for several days!
According to many of my P.E. teachers, I have always had a ‘natural talent’ in sports and was always amongst the top performers in my P.E lessons in school. So, it was quite clear to me at a young age that I will be a professional sports player.
I aspired to be a professional in many different disciplines at different points of my childhood, but those desires died when I started attending a particular secondary school, Whitgift School, where they had nationally recognised athletes for each sport in every year group.
I loved sprinting at the time, and I wanted to be the next Usain Bolt but after suffering from extreme intimidation after our school and district competitions, from losing to so many other athletes, I decided to abandon those aspirations. It wasn’t long till I was reintroduced to basketball again in a P.E lesson and I outclassed my schoolmates during our lessons, so much so that my P.E teacher wrote in his diary ‘Whitgift watch out for this kid.’
…’I remember feeling at home on the basketball court…‘
After that PE Lesson, word got out that I can play, and I was invited to practice with the senior school basketball team. I was actually terrible compared to the players on the team and would occasionally get laughed at, but I remember feeling at home on the basketball court and feeling such a strong connection to the game.
Once we broke up for the school holidays that year, I remember dribbling the ball in my garden every single day so that I could make the school team. I came back a different beast and I led my team to second place in the school’s first league competition.
After we broke up that year for the summer, I met a youth England basketball athlete who introduced me to a YouTube motivational speaker called Eric Thomas. I was around 15 at the time and after watching his speech of him preaching, ‘if you want to be successful as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful’, I decided I wanted to pursue playing in the NBA and was going to do whatever it takes.
2. How has the journey been? From starting in this field to getting to where you are now? Have you faced any challenges?
The journey has been a joke if I were to be honest. I was 15 when I first aspired to play in the NBA and I thought it would be straight forward but that has so not been the case. I have faced a lot of challenges, so many that I cannot even remember them all but it’s the passion for basketball God sowed into me, that has kept me striving forward.
The most significant challenge I can remember was when I was applying for University. NBA scouts recruited incoming young athletes mostly from American NCAA Division 1 universities (NCAA is the best University sports league in the world) and bunched them all in an NBA draft group for that particular year. For several months during my first year at sixth form, I would send emails to all Division 1 universities, all Division 2 universities, most division 3 universities, some NAIA (another top university league but below NCAA) Division 1 universities and some post-high school organisations (for students that lack the sufficient grades to get into university and need to study another year or two in order to get in).
I sent out between 700-1000 emails during that time period. These emails would contain my basketball statistics and highlights, SAT score and other grades. Some accepted me but most of them rejected me. The ones that did accept me, I couldn’t go to because of the financial side of things. I had to trust God in that situation and although it was hard for me to come to terms with; I allowed him to take me through a different path which worked out better for me.
I ended up staying in the UK and going to Loughborough university. And from there, I was able to become a professional basketball player after graduating in 2018.
‘… one thing that has helped me is my relationship with God…’
3. How have you found being a Christian and being a professional athlete? Have there/been moments where you’ve had to choose between one or the other or they’ve clashed?
I have found it very challenging. Being born into a Christian home where your parents are founding pastors of the church you attend every Sunday, there is a lot you are protected from and there are a lot of things you automatically know is wrong.
When in school and University, I always made sure I hung around the ‘good’ group or the ‘Christian’ group although there were times I would have other close friends who would be into some freaky things. After turning professional, you cannot choose who you associate yourself with every single day. There have been countless of times where I was given the opportunity to try something against my belief. (Cont. in next question…)
4. How have you managed to stay remain in the faith whilst facing the various temptations/issues that arise from your profession?
(Cont.) The temptations have definitely carried more weight on me; there is no expectation to do what you know is right in these environments hence, one thing that has helped me is my relationship with God. Not to say I’m that guy that talks to God for hours and hours and has spiritual revelations like daily thoughts but wherever I have travelled to so far, I have made sure that I cut out specific time for God and that during the day, I try to involve him more in my decision making.
Having a strong foundation is also important. I always like to form a habit of going into a time of praying and fasting before entering an opportunity. When I’m abroad, it can be hard to find an English-speaking church and, in these churches, you cannot always trust that they are speaking the gospel of Christ, so I also make it a habit to tune into web streamed church services and sermons in order to keep growing in spirit (1 Peter 2:1-2).
I have a group of brothers (it is an insult to call them friends) in which we create this support system. We pray for each other, have group bible studies together and talk about literally anything we may be going through. This group helps me a lot especially when I’m away from home and going through hard times.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 1 Peter 2: 1-2 (NIV)
5. What advice would you give to others wanting to do what you’re doing right now/wanting to be in the same field as you?
Spiritually, just make sure you’re connected to God. Make sure you know God for yourself and you have your own relationship with him. Prayer support is very important and is often taken for granted. Make sure you have people who are praying for you continuously. Whether it’s your pastor, parents, relatives etc.
For me I have had it easy, my mum and dad are Pastors who pray for me all the time, my grandma is an evangelist who prays for me all the time, my godfather is a Pastor who also prays for me all the time.
I would also advice finding Christian relationships whereby you all mature enough to spiritually strengthen each other just like Daniel had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
6. Finally, are there any other comments you’d like to make?
Pretty much mentioned everything. 👍🏾
End of interview
And that’s it folks. I think everything has pretty much been mentioned. There’s nothing more important in the Christian faith than having those you consider family in the faith who are able to stand for you, especially in the tough times and who are able to lift you up when your faith is not enough for yourself.
When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady till sunset. Exodus 17:12 (NIV)
If you don’t know God for yourself, why not take the time now to invite Him into your life? God is waiting for you, he has been waiting patiently for you for so long. He loves you, it’s because of you that he willingly died, sacrificed himself so that the curse of sin will no longer be upon you. That you would have peace, and peace immeasurable, unthinkable. More than you will ever find in this world. Just invite Him in and let go. He loves you, so so much.
And so guys, I know this has been a long one as compared to previous posts, but I pray that you were all blessed. What did you learn today?