Sheer athleticism, explosiveness, plays above the rim and a crowd pleaser. These are the most commonly used terms to characterize the star potential of the 21-year-old Canadian baller, Olu Famutimi. The 6-5, 212lb guard from the University of Arkansas is a cool cat off the court, always laid back. But on the court, he’s lava in a volcano, ready to erupt with ferocity.
“Olu is a guy who can make shots as well as be an exciting player in the open court,” says third year U of A Razorbacks head coach Stan Heath. “We try to feed him the rock as many times as possible when he has the hot hand.”
Burgeoning with immense talent, Famutimi was heralded at a young age by many scouts as one of the blue chip prospects to ever come from north of the 49th parallel. The son of Nigerian parents, Famutimi was born in Toronto, Ontario where he played his early years of high school basketball at Chaminade College before eventually entering the more competitive ranks of the American circuit.
The ultimate choice to shift gears from Toronto to Flint, Michigan, a state recognized as one of the best for high school basketball, wasn’t an easy one for Olu and his parents. With Olu’s grades slipping in school, the choice to improve his academics was a key decision making factor. “At that point in time, I was being a little knuckle head,” Famutimi explains. “My parents and I made the decision that if I go to the states, basketball wise it’ll be a lot easier for me, but academically, I would have to step it up in order to play and that’s what I did.”
With the help of Chris Grier, coach of the high-profile Michigan Hurricanes on the spring and summer circuits, Famutimi’s rise to success was swift and accolades accompanied him wherever he played. As a junior at Flint Northwestern, the all-around talent averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game. While playing AAU ball for the Michigan Hurricanes, he was named to the Adidas Big Time All-Tournament team. In seven AAU tournaments prior to his senior season, he was named MVP three times and he tied Kobe Bryant’s record with 40 points in the ABCD Adidas All-American Camp All-Star Game. As a senior, he earned McDonald’s and Parade All-America honors after averaging 25 points, 14 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game.
Famutimi was making a huge splash and everyone took notice with some even labelling him as possibly going straight from high school to the NBA. But something occurred in his senior year at Northwestern that slowed down his progression as an elite player, the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Olu was out of commission for close to nine months before he started playing again. “Everything was going fine for me at the time, the stocks were up,” says Famutimi.
“It took away the opportunity to go out of high school but you can’t complain about that. You have to move on and live life.”
Despite the injury, Olu recovered and offers from several top notch universities rekindled his star status. After contemplating where he should go, the guard chose the University of Arkansas playing under Coach Stan Heath’s program. Coming in as a freshman, the Razorbacks had a tough and disappointing season with just 12 wins. However, Olu started 13 of 27 games and finished fourth on the team in scoring (7.0) and rebounding (3.5).
This year, the team had an up and down season but managed to play above .500 finishing with a 18-12 record. Despite not making the NCAA tournament this year, Famutimi’s sophomore year was a building block. He played in all 30 games with 29 starts and finished the year averaging fourth in team scoring, third in rebounding, second with 42 three-pointers made and added 1.0 assists with 1.0 steals per game. As a junior next year, he is expected to improve his ball handling skills, shoot with more conviction and get to the basket a whole lot more. “The thing with Olu is, you can just see that he has so much potential,” explains Coach Heath. “He has that inside of him and the more we can pull some of that out, the more we can see his game elevate to another level.”
With all his past successes, Famutimi still remains a humble man with a clear goal in mind, reaching the NBA. “I think I have a great opportunity to go to the NBA,” Olu says. “I’ll continue to do my part and put the rest in the hands of God.” Coach Stan Heath seems to agree with junior guard, “I will not rule that possibility out, he has been a guy that has been on the radar screen on that level and has been looked at very hard and he knows there are things that he needs to work on to maybe help himself get to that level. But you look in terms of his athleticism, his body, his explosiveness on the court… that is a very realistic possibility if he can continue to get better.”
He acknowledges the challenge ahead and understands that there are things he needs to work on to help himself get to that level. If Olu’s resilience and work ethic are any indication, the chances of another Canadian making the big leagues is soon in the making.