owumi-176The tears, Alex Owumi promised, would be shed in relative privacy. The captain of the Worcester Wolves has revealed enough of both his fears and his joys following the journey that has led him from the epicentre of a war zone to lifting the BBL Play-Off Trophy aloft, prize in hand, glee in heart.

The American has, in his short life, known what it is like to fight merely to exist, and to live. When we talk off battles on court, they are – in reality – anything but, simply games of sport to be won or lost but with no true victims to be harmed or strangled.

Owumi’s Libyan odyssey, recounted in his well-reviewed book Qaddafi’s Point Guard, recounted his days imprisoned within his own apartment as the bullets and bombs destroyed the streets outside like acid rain.

Playing 40 minutes of basketball, even a final with history to be forged, is a trite insignificance compared to the effort expended, three years ago, when he wondered if he was to be left for dead as the demise of a tyrannical regime turned into bloodshed and chaos.

Somehow, though, escaping that torment unscathed to find a home from home in Worcester, and then to dish a huge assist in his club’s first-ever post-season prize, seems of greater significance because of what went before.

“I’m very emotional about what I went through,” he said after Sunday’s Wembley triumph over Newcastle Eagles. “Basketball altogether has brought me to different places, and now to Worcester.”

A new chapter in his autobiography, a tale for another book, perhaps.

“It’s just a great story, a small place like Worcester having a professional basketball team. We’re probably the main story there right now with the media attention we get. The story is all over, with the fans, the coaches, how the players got there. The organisation. The owners, the general manager.”

Last summer, Owumi thought deeply about where he saw his days and nights. Did he really want to head overseas again, parted from family and friends for several months for the relative pittance of a BBL salary?

Talking with Paul James, an accord was reached. The Nigerian-born playmaker would provide input into the recruiting process, using contacts, offering opinions to compile a list of possibles who might nurse the Wolves from the fringe to mainstream.

Zaire Taylor was among the first names on the list, following a campaign with Leicester that brought ample success but also enough conflict to render him expendable.

A call was made. A deal was struck. A tandem on the court, the pair have been flat-mates off it, Taylor’s fondness for staying up until dawn watching NBA videos recommended by his colleagues earning both Owumi’s respect and amazement.

“It’s ridiculous what he does,” he declared. “But he’s a great guy. PJ and I recruited him to come here. He called me and said he wanted to come here so I made sure that happened.”

Their bond runs deep, one playing off the other, each prone to nights when no shot is untakeable and days, like Taylor’s third quarter spree at Wembley, when almost everything falls.

“His idea,” Owumi recounts, “was to get me MVP this year. I was like: ‘man, I don’t worry about individual accolades. I just want to hold up trophies. That’s my main goal.

“But when the season started, and we started rolling, I said to him: ‘you’re going to get the MVP. You deserve it. We’ll help you get that by making shots … just find me in the corner.’”

It was a one-two punch which Newcastle could not quite repel at Wembley, Taylor scoring 30 and Owumi adding 14 in a 90-78 triumph in which, quite simply, more of Worcester’s players arrived ready than from their rivals.

“Coming to the game, we had a great plan defensively,” Owumi underlined.

“Offensively, we knew, with our starting five and what they bring to the game, anybody was capable of scoring over 20 points and shooting a high percentage. But Zaire came up big for us.”

In a year in which Worcester was repressed by flood, a few tears of elation may pass without remark. Owumi, nonetheless, has every right to exhale and let go.

It was not easy to get here. But that seat at the back of the bus will surely feel all the more a haven for what has come to pass.

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