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David Nwaba opens up about struggles in winding journey to Cal Poly, NBA

Cal Poly graduate David Nwaba (10) shoots as New Orleans forward Cheick Diallo defends during the first half of an NBA game last season.
Cal Poly graduate David Nwaba (10) shoots as New Orleans forward Cheick Diallo defends during the first half of an NBA game last season. Associated Press

Cal Poly graduate David Nwaba wasn’t known as the loquacious type during his three years in San Luis Obispo — at least not in front of the media.

But the former Mustang’s meteoric rise to the NBA offered Nwaba a platform to tell the story of his basketball journey unfiltered.

The Players’ Tribune — an increasingly popular website that produces first-person stories directly from athletes — published a story Friday titled, “Who in the World is David Nwaba?”

Those who follow the Cal Poly men’s basketball team have known that answer for years.

Nwaba, a 24-year-old guard who was traded to the Chicago Bulls this offseason, details his journey from an overlooked high school prospect who attended three colleges in four years, to signing his first NBA contract with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.

In the story, Nwaba says landing at Cal Poly was a big break.

“Yeah, it wasn’t UNC or Kentucky, or even a Pac-12 school,” Nwaba said. “But it got me on the level I felt I belonged.”

The NBA Development League is where Nwaba cut his teeth as a legitimate NBA prospect.

Playing for the L.A. D-Fenders — the Lakers’ D-League affiliate — gave Nwaba the chance to showcase his world-class athleticism and build relationships within the organization.

In February, Nwaba got an unexpected call from D-Fenders’ coach Coby Karl telling him to come to the front office. Nwaba thought he was going to be traded.

He wasn’t.

“David, it’s the Lakers,” Karl said. “They’re offering you a 10-day contract.”

The rest of that meeting, Nwaba said, was a blur.

“After that, I don’t remember what Coach Karl said — or what anybody else said, for that matter,” Nwaba said. “I was just thinking about my parents. I was thinking about my siblings. I was thinking about calling each one of them individually to tell them the news and hear their reactions.”

Nwaba closes the story encouraging up-and-coming players with NBA dreams to be patient. No journey is a straight line, he says, and each one looks a little bit different.

“If it’s truly what you want,” Nwaba said, “never let the dream die.”

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