Ask Paul Eboua about the challenges he faces nowadays and they are drastically different from the ones the U18 Stellazzurra Rome prospect tackled when he first joined the Italian basketball academy.
Eboua is a tantalizing talent as a 2.03-meter small forward with a wingspan of 2.22 meters. He played a major role in Stellazzurra beating U18 Zalgiris Kaunas at the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Kaunas and reaching the final, where the team lost to U18 Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. A native of Cameroon, Eboua, who turned 18 years of age in February, averaged 14.8 points and 11.0 rebounds – including 23 points and 15 rebounds in the big win over Zalgiris, the Kaunas team’s first-ever loss in the ANGT Kaunas tournament. That performance helped Stellazzurra gain a wildcard entry to the ANGT Finals in Belgrade, where the Roman side will appear for the second time.
"We are coming for wins. We want to win it. This is not arrogance, but it is what we want," said Eboua, who along with Stellazzurra has been drawn into Group B of the ANGT Finals along with U18 FC Bayern Munich, 2014 continental champion U18 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and 2013 winner U18 Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona.
Eboua said the Kaunas tournament was a major learning experience for him and the team.
"The most important thing we learned is that to play this kind of game, first of all we must be tough and very athletic. Exceeding our body limit is the only way," he said. "The second thing is that no game is finished until the end. That may seem trivial, but it is the truth. When two of the best teams in Europe are playing, the game can change at any minute, second or action on the court. It’s easy to remember that when you are up by 20 points, but it's more important to remember when you are down 20."
Eboua has been a major attraction for pro scouts as he continues to develop as a high-level prospect. But he also knows there is a lot of work to be done.
"On the court, my biggest challenge is to stay concentrated. I’m working a lot every day with the staff on doing this. I know this is a very important step for me," he said. "Off the court, my challenge is to be a professional player, but also a professional person. I don’t want anything special, but to just be a very good person."
Eboua’s challenges have changed quite a bit since he first arrived in the Italian capital in the summer of 2015. Back then, he left his family, including an older brother and two younger sisters, to come to Europe – without speaking Italian or English. Eboua said he had not even seen an airport before his journey to Italy.
One of his saviors in the early days of his European odyssey was fellow Cameroonian Jordan Philippe Bayehe, who used to play with Stellazzurra.
"Jordan for me is like a real brother. We went to Italy together and he helped me every time when I had difficulties," Eboua said. "I can’t imagine myself here without him."
Eboua talked to Bayehe in Cameroon about what to expect in Italy after his new friend had already been to Stellazzurra on a tryout.
"I was happy and excited, but also a little scared because I understood that I was close to changing my life," Eboua said.
The move to Italy also meant a major change in his commitment to basketball. He had only learned about basketball about a year before coming to Italy and said he was practicing only about five or six times a month. That quickly became two practices a day in Rome.
"I started to finally see real basketball with other teammates, opponents and teamwork," Eboua said.
But the beginning was tough with school a challenge because of his initial struggles in expressing himself in Italian combined with intense practices. "At first I thought I was not going to get there," he admitted.
However, Eboua said he found motivation from his loved ones back in Cameroon: "Whenever I almost gave up, I thought about my family: my parents, my brother and sisters."
Eboua has become an elite prospect with invitations to all the major talent showcases in Europe and the United States. All the while, he continues to change his mindset, developing as not just a talented athlete, but also as a hard-worker and a leader on and off the court. With the strides he has taken recently, the future appears very promising for Eboua.