Made for this: Obasohan sets new career highs in final seasonBy Tyler Waldrep | 06/01/2016 2:22pm
Obasohan helped Alabama secure the victory against Auburn. CW | Layton Dudley
On March 15, 2015, Alabama announced men’s basketball coach, Anthony Grant, would not return for another season. When Retin Obasohan heard the news, he was faced with a decision.
“Before he met with [new coach] Avery [Johnson], the day he arrived in Tuscaloosa, me and Retin had lunch and I remember him telling me that was he was highly considering going back home [to Belgium],” Obasohan’s friend Ryan Summerville said. “He felt like it was right. What he was supposed to do was go home.”
That same day, 90 minutes after Obasohan met Johnson, Summerville received a text notification on his phone. His best friend decided to give Alabama one more year.
Obasohan spent the weeks prior to that day weighing his options and seeking the advice of someone he trusted.
“I referred to the one thing that had always worked for me – prayer,” Obasohan said.
A work in progress
When Obasohan first set foot on campus almost five years ago, he thought he stuck out a little, but he didn’t realize how obvious it was until someone asked him about his shoes.
“When he first showed up he was wearing like a pair of Adidas and Alabama’s like a Nike school, and he had no idea,” Summerville said. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m not even fitting in with my shoes.’ ”
Shoes weren’t the only new clothes Obasohan needed to go out and purchase. If he was going to survive the heat and humidity of the South, he needed to trade in his jeans and sweaters for tank tops and shorts.
Obasohan also realized he was ignorant of some of the nuances of American basketball. He expected his speed to allow him to blow by defenders, but he quickly found out that his opponents, especially the ones in conference play, could keep up with him.
“It was just crazy because everything was new,” Obasohan said. “I quickly noticed that what I used to put my identity in, which was basketball, wasn’t going to cut it or wasn’t enough for me.”
So the pastor’s son looked for something familiar, and with a little help from Twitter, he found it. At the Church of the Highlands, Obasohan met Summerville and others he was able to lean on as he struggled with adjusting to his new life in the United States.
It didn’t take college pastor Bubba Massey long to notice that Obasohan was special, but it wasn’t his accent that caught the pastor’s attention.
“He came to college not – to me – as a typical freshman trying to figure things out,” Massey said. “He really came with his head on. He came to me as a student who didn’t just want to play basketball.”
The Belgian is able to laugh at his mishaps and initial struggles now, but he hasn’t completely adjusted just yet. He still talks about the weather in Celsius terms and occasionally, a phrase will get used that he doesn’t recognize.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “I think the only thing that made me feel that [like I adjusted completely] a couple times is when people be like, ‘Oh, you’re foreign?’ [and] you’re like yeah, ‘Oh, I don’t hear an accent.’ ”
A season to remember
Before his final season began, Obasohan sent Summerville and Massey a text message with a list on it outlining goals for his senior season. If he was going to come back, he was going to give it – and Johnson – everything he had.
He didn’t have to wait long to start checking things off his list.
“He was honored and humbled just to be able to be voted that [co-captain] by the other players, so definitely it was a great surprise and great achievement for him,” Summerville said.
Obasohan’s reasons to celebrate didn’t stop there. In addition to helping his team topple four ranked opponents in the regular season for the first time since 2001-02, he also averaged more than 17 points per game and scored more than 25 percent of his team’s points.
That production didn’t go unnoticed. On Tuesday, Obasohan was named first-team All-SEC, SEC All-Defense and the Southeastern Conference Scholar Athlete of the year.
“He’s definitely had a tremendous leap this year and he’s not finished,” Johnson said. “[The awards are] well deserved, well earned.”
Despite the increased attention he’s received from the media, opposing coaches or his fellow students, Obasohan has not lost sight of what’s important to him.
“Retin lives with the right perspective,” Massey said. “One day, the basketball will stop bouncing and so he knows one day, he’s not going to play basketball forever.”
Every time one of his shots is good, Obasohan points to the sky, a “thank you” to God for his success in that moment. As grateful as he is, Obasohan still has goals left on his list.
An NIT berth would be disappointing after the season his team has had, but an NCAA at-large berth would likely require Alabama to make a deep run in the SEC Tournament. If it’s going to happen, that run will start Thursday night when the team takes on Ole Miss at 6 p.m.
“This season, just in its entirety is just going to be something that I’ll never forget,” Obasohan said. “I’m excited for the memories I guess [we are making] right now, because this season, of itself has been special, I’m excited to see how it’s going to end.”
A servant’s heart
Before Obasohan’s production on the court could skyrocket, he realized he had to make some changes off the court. He couldn’t be the same man he was before.
“I was constantly thinking like, ‘Oh I’m playing well the last five games, I’ve got it figured out,’ then bam, I’d have a setback,” Obasohan said. “I got to the point [last summer] where I was so low I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to figure out you can’t live a double life. You can’t live for Christ and still do things of the world.’”
The late nights in the gym didn’t stop, but Obasohan also spent more time serving in his church. Sometimes it meant moving chairs after worship or vacuuming the floors. Other times, it meant getting back into town at 1 a.m. after a road game only to wake up and be at the church for prayer at 6 a.m.
It can also be as simple as spending some time listening to his peers.
“People don’t see it, but he mentors guys on that side that aren’t athletes,” Massey said. “He spends time with students, I’m in group messages with 35 or 40 students that are with him and he responds to every single one of them.”
Between Obasohan's role as a small group leader and attending sermons and Bible studies, Summerville said Obasohan spends at least three to four days a week involved with the church in some capacity.
Perhaps one of Obasohan’s favorite activities at church is putting on his Church of the Highlands shirt that reads, “I was made for this,” and welcoming people to church as a part of the greeting team.
“Our biggest thing is like we lead out of the capacity that we serve in,” Obasohan said.
His sport, the thing he hopes to make a career out of after he leaves Alabama, had to become something more. It had to become a platform for his faith.
He brings that same humble approach to the basketball team. Obasohan does his best to serve his teammates the same way he does his church when possible but sometimes, instead, his team needs him to take control and step up.
“Shannon [Hale] really got on me [during the Auburn game],” Obasohan said. “He just looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Look, you gotta turn up.’ ”
Despite a slow start, Obasohan did what he does best for Alabama – he took over and piled up some late points to finish with a game-high 16 that helped Alabama secure the victory.
It seems like a long shot, but with NCAA talk still lingering around Tuscaloosa, the senior will likely be asked to help his team defy the odds again and win enough games to secure an NCAA berth. The tall task doesn’t bother Obasohan. Neither does the responsibility that comes with his recently-attained local celebrity status.
“I realize that I’m playing for a greater purpose,” Obasohan said. “I just go out there and give it everything I’ve got to please God and then, I’ll handle the consequences of going with that. Looking at the game that way, it just takes off all the pressure.”