WHENEVER Melbourne Tigers players are sitting on the team bench – they are under one standing order from coach Chris Anstey.
Owen Odigie was doing just that when Anstey called his name with 3:10 to go in the third quarter against Wollongong Hawks on Sunday.
“I can’t really describe what it’s like when Chris called my name,” Odigie said with a pause. “I didn’t really think about it much, I just tried to get over to the score table as quickly as I could in-case he changed his mind.”
The Tigers were up 56-51 at the time but awkward Hawks import Kevin Tiggs was troubling the home side’s defence with his unorthodox drives and left-handed shots.
Odigie was thrown straight at Tiggs with Anstey hoping his athletic reserve could match-it with the newly signed American.
After a couple of tough plays, Odigie figured out he needed to give himself more room to contain Tiggs and helped force three key turnovers as the undermanned Tigers re-gained their energy and went onto an important win.
Odigie played 11 of the final 13 minutes and while two points, two rebounds, three fouls and a block don’t look like much, the 20 year old forward was praised by his coach and teammates post game for the spark he gave the side.
“It was hard at first, he scored on me a couple of times but the coaches talked to me and said to give him an extra step,” Odigie said. “Then I was able to step him a few times, the extra time allowed me to read where he was going and I was quick enough to react and get there first.”
Odigie said he could feel the momentum going the Tigers way after they made a few stops.
“I did feel like the momentum changed,” Odigie said. “The guys on the bench were getting pretty energised as well as the guys on court; we were all getting around each other.”
Odigie’s path to the NBL was the same as any junior player in Victoria.
He joined McKinnon Cougars and played with them until under-18s where he spent a season with Dandenong Rangers and then took up a scholarship with the AIS before eventually joining the Tigers last season as a development player.
But his family’s path to Australia was more unusual.
“My parents are both from Nigeria,” Odigie said. “Dad had a job in Jamaica which he worked in for two years then a few months before I was born they moved to Australia. I was born and raised here – I’ve spent all my life in Australia.”
There is no denying he also carries the torch for emerging African-Australians, setting an example for those using basketball to assimilate to their new country.
“Obviously there are not many guys with African heritage playing in the NBL,” Odigie said. “I guess with the Sudanese community getting into basketball then it’s good for them to see someone who comes from an African background in this league.”
Odigie was upgraded to the main roster during this past off-season but had injury problems as he entered the off-season with a wrist injury then suffered jaw and toe injuries.
The latter injury cost kept him out for the rest of the South East Australian Basketball League season leaving him watching from the bench as his Dandenong Rangers side won the championship.
“You don’t get to play a grand final every day so it was a bit annoying,” he said. “I’ve had a frustrating start to my professional career because I was healthy for pretty much my whole junior career then in the past year and a half I’ve had injury after injury.”
The young Tigers forward was healthy enough to play for Australia at the World University Games earlier this year with the side losing to home team Russia in the gold medal game.
“It was a good feeling getting out on court in the green and gold,” Odigie said. “It was like a mini Olympics with all the athletes at a village, and the final was pretty tough with 8,000 people there all cheering for the Russians.
“We had our little Aussie section but in all it was just good to have a chance to play in a game like that.”
With forward Lucas Walker expected to return to the side for this Saturday night’s clash against Cairns Taipans at the State Netball and Hockey Centre at 7.30pm, Odigie knows he will return to the bench and have to wait for his next opportunity.
But with Sunday’s performance in mind, he will remain ready and waiting for Anstey to call his name again.
“Finding some consistency in my performance and health is what I’m aiming to do,” Odigie said. “I’ll just do what I can at every training and when I get a chance in games then I’m going to take it and built on it.”
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