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November 22, 2007Solomon Alabi doesn't say much.
Even his Florida State teammates, who say they've adopted the freshman like a brother, admit that he's relatively quiet on and off the court. So when Alabi spoke up and asked the other players on the Seminoles' basketball team to attend church services with him on Sunday, November 11th, he had their full attention.
Alabi, who had been sidelined for two months with a stress fracture in his right leg, desperately wanted to get back in action. And he hoped that with the support and prayers of his teammates, along with the prayer and fasting of family members back home in Nigeria, that he might finally receive clearance to play the next day against Georgia Southern.
"It was a great moment," Alabi said. "We all got to go to church, to help me get better."
Whether it was coincidence or the power of prayer, Alabi indeed received that medical clearance Monday morning. And that night, he scored four points and grabbed one rebound in four minutes of action.
"We went as a team and prayed for him," senior point guard Ralph Mims said. "It was just a blessing. For him to sit out as long as he's been sitting out, even the little minutes he played, he was so excited and so happy. It touched each and every one of us."
"It was something special and meaningful for him. By us going to church, it touched him. And now, look at the results. He's getting a chance to display his talent. That's what he's been waiting for since he's been here."
Alabi, a 7-foot-1 center who is expected to play a key role in the Seminoles' season, hadn't even practiced with his FSU teammates before a brief walkthrough that Monday afternoon. At practice every day, Alabi was allowed to work only on his shooting and other isolated drills.
"Today is the first time he jumped since the beginning of August," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said that night. "We felt very fortunate to have Solomon on the floor."
Though he played just four minutes in the late second half, Alabi did display some of the skills that made him one of the nation's top high school prospects last year. He threw down a two-handed dunk off of an alley-oop pass from fellow freshman Jordan Demercy, and he also banked in a nifty turnaround jump shot.
Each basket drew a rousing ovation from hopeful Florida State fans, as well as broad smiles for Alabi and all of his teammates and coaches.
"I'm so excited to play my first college basketball," the soft-spoken freshman said.
If there has been a positive to Alabi's time away from full team practices, it's that he has used that opportunity to work on his shooting and other individual skills. Though FSU's fans were likely surprised to see his deft touch on that jump shot, Alabi's teammates were not.
"He works on that every single day," Mims said. "For a seven-footer, he has the softest and sweetest touch that you'll ever see. And I'm not just saying that because he's my teammate."
Mims said that during breaks in practice, he often would glance over to catch a peak at Alabi working on a variety of different shots ? from jump hooks to turnaround jumpers.
"You would be amazed at how many shots he makes," Mims said. "That little move he did, that didn't surprise us, because he does it in practice every day."
Though he has unlimited potential, the Seminoles know they can't hurry Alabi back into the picture before he's ready. His growth will be a gradual process, with the idea being that he will be most needed when the Seminoles begin taking on their foes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We know we have to be very patient with him," Mims said. "We'll really need him in conference play, so we're not just going to throw him out there and make him do things he can't do right now. We're going to take it day by day. We're not going to rush him."
As Mims and fellow senior Isaiah Swann talked about Alabi after last Monday's game, it was readily apparent that they are protective of their young Nigerian teammate. They know how tough it is to be a freshman student-athlete under any circumstances, let alone to be in a foreign country and hampered immediately by an injury.
"He doesn't have family over here," Mims said. "The only family he knows is us. This is our brother, this is our teammate. We've got no choice but to take care of him."
This article first appeared in a recent issue of The Osceola, to subscribe click here.