During the Super Showcase in Orlando towards the end of July, Ohio State may have found itself a pretty good Alabi. No, you didn't mistakenly assume that was alibi, a defense or an excuse.
We're talking about Solomon Alabi, a 7-1 center native Nigerian that has made a home at Montverde (Fla.) Academy.
When Ohio State assistant John Groce and head basketball coach Thad Matta arrived in Orlando, they fully intended to see a plethora of talent. Alabi did just enough that day in a single game to peak the interest of Groce -- a long time friend and connection to Alabi's new high school coach, Kevin Sutton.
"I've known John Groce for a number of years when he was at N.C. State, Butler and the like; and of course, at Xavier," Sutton said.
Sutton invited Groce over to a team workout at Montverde, which was about a half hour away from Orlando. Both Matta and Groce made the trek over to Montverde to see Alabi and his Nigerian friend and teammate, Joseph Katuka, a 6-10 power forward.
They were one of 85 teams according to Sutton to watch his players work out.
"Coach Matta and John came down and watched the workout, and I've gotten to know Coach Matta pretty well," Sutton explained. "They both called a couple of weeks ago and let me know that they were offering Solomon a scholarship."
The scholarship from Ohio State won't be the last one that Alabi sees from major Division I programs. He already has seen many coaches parade in and out of Montverde to scout his game.
In addition to Ohio State, there are a couple of steady suitors in a pecking order for Alabi's early recruitment.
"Florida State has done a tremendous job recruiting him so far, and recruiting both of them actually -- Solomon and Joseph," Sutton said. "St. Joe's, Clemson, Ohio State, and a lot of people have seen them. Those are just some of the main schools."
Like many coaches, Groce can put a lot of faith in Sutton for a player like Alabi because of Sutton's track record with other foreign-born players. In fact, the two have a prior precedent set.
Sutton coached at Montrose Christian Academy in Rockville, Md. in 1999 before heading off to Old Dominion. Four years later, Groce recruited another Nigerian from Montrose to Xavier in Churchill Odia.
It was Sutton who is believed to be instrumental in recommending Odia to Groce, as Sutton has strong connections within the foreign circuit. Although Sutton was long gone from Montrose by that time, his insight and relationships have helped both college coaches and his own program.
"We are a private, independent, international boarding school located in Montverde which is 30 minutes outside of Orlando and I've been coaching for this my 20th year and I've had foreign players before," Sutton explained of his school's environment. "I've put in 95 kids into college so I've had some success in coaching in high school and I've made some connections in my coaching experience. Through one of those connections, I found Solomon and Joseph (Katuka) and their names were given to me. I got in contact with them and they ended up at Montverde Academy. We're an international school, so it was a great fit."
The two played in the United States last fall, October to be exact. They played in approximately 15 games while here as members of the African National Team. This past May, they both competed in the Nike Big Man Camp over in Senegal.
This fall will be the first season of competition for Alabi and Katuka in the United States. With Alabi, coaches see a big time prospect that, like most Nigerians, have a quick learning curve. ScoutHoops.com ranks Alabi as the No. 7 center in the class of 2007 nationally.
Meanwhile, one comparison of Alabi describes him as being a lot like Greg Oden, minus the enormous polish. Sutton didn't find that to be inaccurate.
"Interestingly enough, when Greg Oden was a sophomore I had him at the Nike Jamboree and coached him," he said. "Greg Oden is a terrific player as you well know, and I wouldn't want to sit here and say he's the next Greg Oden because he (Oden) is very, very talented."
"But I do think Solomon will be very good in his own right. Solomon is a very good player. I think what a lot of people see is that Solomon has the same disposition that Oden has as far as demeanor and character and everything else," Sutton added of the comparison.
Like Oden, Alabi is a player whose offensive skills are still catching up with his defensive ability. Alabi is a good defender that can block shots and has terrific instincts.
Once his offense catches up, Sutton believes he has a great player on his hands.
"He has unbelievable potential obviously. He's got very good timing, excellent timing on defense and blocking shots. Rebounding, he does a great job rebounding and creating space. His offensive skills are a little bit behind his defense but it continues to improve," Sutton described. "Then I think by the time he graduates from Montverde Academy, he has the chance to be a very complete player."
Similar to that of Alabi, Katuka is still refining and honing his skills on the court. Katuka is a strong and athletic 6-10 forward that can also work in the paint.
Much of the same schools have looked at Katuka, although Ohio State specifically has not offered him. He has similar upside, according to Sutton.
"He's a left-handed 6-10 that can play inside as well as by the time he graduates will be comfortable in facing the basket," he noted. "He runs well, and I think he too is a high major player."
The last time Groce and Matta signed a Nigerian, they packed up and ended up taking a job at Ohio State. Odia has since transferred from Xavier to Oregon.
Certainly they are hoping to get another shot at another of Sutton's prodigies.
"Solomon is a very talented young player whose best basketball will come at the next level as he continues to get better," Sutton warned.
When Oden moves on from Ohio State to the NBA, probably within a couple of years, the Buckeyes will need a replacement. Attempting to find a suitable replacement for Oden needs no alibi.
But they sure would settle for an Alabi.