Teenage sensation Otobo ready to scale new heights
JOHANNESBURG (South Africa) - In a short five years, Dynamo BBC's Israel Otobo has managed to carve a name for himself in African basketball both at club and national level, but the 19-year-old is just getting started.
Standing at 2.03 m (6ft 8in), Otobo's dream was to become a professional footballer and was working on his craft, but his father’s friends saw something different in the then 14-year-old, encouraging him to introduce the youngster to basketball.
Seeing as he was studying at a football-dominated school in Bayelsa state in Nigeria, Otobo never thought much about the fuss over his height but when his father, Oyoro Otobo heeded his friends' advice and enrolled him at Patriot Academy, he knew he was home and dry.
Israel Otobo fouled out in the defining 79-78 win over COSPN, but his 8 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks proved vital for Dynamo
"I am happy to have gotten a strong foundation for two years in Bayelsa, at the academy, before I moved to Lagos," Otobo said to FIBA.basketball.
"I made my debut in the Nigerian top-tier league last year, after playing for three other teams in non-league competitions, with Nigerian Customs but lost in the final to Kwara Falcons, missing out on what would have been my first Basketball Africa League (BAL) qualifiers. It was heartbreaking then but I got a second chance when I joined Dynamo this season," Otobo offered.
The Nigerian International moved to Burundi, joining Dynamo BBC for the 2022/23 season as the side dethroned Urunani to lift the title they had last won in 2018 and book a place in the 2024 BAL qualifiers.
A fearless competitor and aggressive on both ends of the floor, Otobo emerged as a revelation in the Road to BAL
Dynamo were pooled in Group C of the preliminary Road to BAL qualifiers held in Tanzania where they met hosts Pazi, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Elan Coton of Benin, finishing second in the four-team competition.
As fate would have it, the side received a wild card to participate in the East Division Elite 16 held in Johannesburg where, against all odds, they finished third to book a slot in the 2024 BAL.
19-year-old Israel averaged 14 points, 13.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists and was a crucial part of the team's win in the all-important Third-Place Game against Madagascar's COSPN.
Otobo is seen here celebrating Dynamo's qualification to the BAL
"This was such a big opportunity to play in the Elite 16 and we couldn't let it go without putting up a fight. Qualifying for BAL is exciting, a dream come true for me," Otobo explained, adding: "Playing in BAL will open more career opportunities for me as it is the biggest stage I can represent my team on the continent.
"My target is to land a deal outside the continent, either in the US or in Europe and I believe I can take the challenge and become a better player with such an opportunity," Israel opens up.
Dynamo wrote a unique history since the inception of BAL qualifiers four years ago. The Olivier Ndayiragije-coached team secured the last slot for the fourth BAL season thanks to a nail-biting 79-78 win over COSPN.
The win meant that Dynamo are the first team to benefit from an Elite 16 wild card to qualify for the BAL Finals, and more importantly, they became the first Burundian side to join the continent's club premier basketball competition; an achievement Otobo admits did not come easy as they almost spoiled it in the tail-end of the clash.
In his debut with D'Tigers in 2022, Israel Otobo averaged 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in three World Cup African Qualifiers
Meanwhile, Otobo who was part of the Nigerian national team that played in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers, playing 3 matches and averaging 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds is hopeful for another call-up.
"I went into the national team as a rookie and honestly, I did not expect much as we have experienced players in that team. I was there to learn while giving my best so being named in the team came as a surprise.
"With the experience gained during the Road to BAL, a second call-up will be highly welcome ahead of the FIBA Afrobasket qualifiers. I believe we have one of the best teams and we will be at the 2025 AfroBasket," Otobo offered.