Move over Daniel Igali, you're not the only Nigerian import making an impact on sports in Surrey.
Henry and Stanley Maduabueke, 18year-old twin brothers from Lagos by way of Abia State, arrived in September to study at Holy Cross Regional High School as part of an international student exchange program. In just five months, the Nigerian newcomers have helped the Crusaders' senior boys' basketball team improve from a solid contender among class AA teams into one of the best high school hoops squads in the province.
"They had said they had played basketball before, but I had no idea what they could do," says Holy Cross coach Matt LeChasseur. "It didn't take long for Aaron (Madaisky, whose family billets the Maduabueke brothers) to get them in the gym playing around with a ball. They looked really raw athletically at first, but they've improved by leaps and bounds. Every day they get better and it's amazing to watch."
The Grade 11 Maduabueke brothers have had to make a number of adjustments, and not just on the basketball court. They grew up in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, the sons of aquarium specialist Chimdi and his wife Mabel, who owns a small shop. Chimdi passed away two years ago and when Henry and Stanley had the opportunity to come to Canada to get a better education, relatives pooled their money to buy plane tickets for the brothers.
"Canada has a good reputation so it wasn't a bad thing for us to be coming here," Stanley says. "It wasn't something to be afraid of or worried about because we knew it was safe.
We had heard a lot of good things about Canada so we were excited. We had heard a lot and then when we got here we saw that it was all true. That was very good to see."
Still, the brothers did have to make some adjustments. They arrived in September during a typical Lower Mainland Indian summer. The Canadians they saw were walking around in T-shirts and shorts, but the only sensation the Maduabuekes felt was cold. Even now, the topic of Canadian temperatures brings hoots of laughter from the brothers. Henry jokes, "You say we don't know what cold is, but I say come to Nigeria because you don't know hot."
One of the biggest disappointments for the brothers was their first experience with snow. Their only previous exposure to Canada's annual white curse came from what they had seen in Hollywood movies - replete with upbeat musical soundtracks and warm smiles on the faces of the frolicking actors.
The reality was a major letdown. "We had heard about snow," Henry says. "We thought it was just some kind of powdery stuff that fell from the skies; we didn't know it was just ice. When you see it in movies people are playing in it and it looks like fun stuff.
"When it snowed for the first time I thought, 'Oh, this is snow - I don't like snow.' Snow is cold and after I saw it, I just wanted to go back inside."
Another major change for the brothers was Canadian food. The food here is much sweeter than in Nigeria and they would love to be able to find some tasty goat meat once in a while. Stanley also misses his mom's pounded yam and egusi soup while Henry has cravings for a Nigerian dish called moi moi or an African salad with okazi leaves.
Madaisky says his mother was initially offended when the twins did not like her cooking, but since then she's learned more about what they enjoy and tries to mix things up a bit for them.
He adds the experience of living with two teens from a far and distant land has been an eye-opener for everyone involved
"It's great having them around; it's been a lot fun," he says. "I've also learned a lot from them. Seeing the looks on their faces when they ask if we have power all the time or why we let the water run when we're washing dishes. The questions are kind of surprising, but it makes me think. They make me more thankful for everything we have and that maybe there are things I can work on like not letting the water run all the time. We're teaching them about life in Canada, but we're learning just as much from them."
The brothers have fit in seamlessly with the Holy Cross community. Academically, they are at the same level as their Canadian counterparts so that transition has been an easy one. Athletically, the Maduabuekes were more of a work in progress when they arrived, but they have caught up quickly.
In Nigeria, soccer rules the land, but former Nigerian NBA star Akeem Olajuwan is still a major presence. The brothers began playing soccer before slowly gravitating to basketball as they grew older.
Nigerian basketball is a rough and tumble affair with more emphasis on battling for position and rebounds than bombing away with perimeter shots. With that in mind, it's not surprising to learn the brothers are ferocious in the paint, but need to work on their shooting skills. Henry is a 6-foot-5 power forward with a great touch around the rim, while Stanley checks in at 6-foot-4 and plays a guard/forward hybrid. He is quicker than his brother and thrives in a defensive role.
"They're very athletic and the game comes easy to them," LeChasseur says. "They're both extremely competitive."
The skills of the twins have been the perfect complement to other players on the Crusaders. The 6-foot-7 Madaisky played on the B.C. Under-17 team last summer and has already secured a lacrosse scholarship to UMass. Holy Cross's floor general is Grade 10 point guard Taylor Browne, a member of the B.C. U-15 team and a starter on the Crusaders' senior team for two years.
With the Maduabuekes added to the mix, the Crusaders now boast a lineup that gives rival coaches headaches.
"They make our team much better and they make the game easier for our other players," LeChasseur said. "It's very difficult for opponents to key on one or two guys on our team now. Aaron has probably benefited the most because I think teams would have swarmed him this year if he was our only presence under the rack. They've been good for Taylor, too, because if teams collapse on them under the rim, they can just pass it back to Taylor for a wide-open look. He's lived on that this year."
The Crusaders began the season ranked among the top four AA teams in the province. With the addition of the Nigerian Nightmares, Holy Cross has moved up into the top spot for class AA and last month they upended Kitsilano - the fourth-ranked class AAA team in B.C.
The Crusaders have already won the B.C. Catholic School championship and now with the help of their new Nigerian friends, Holy Cross has its sights set on a much bigger prize as the provincial playdowns begin.
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