Berkeley sure seems like a special place for 17-year-old Ayinde Ubaka. After leading the Slam ‘N Jam Soldiers to a championship victory at last weekend’s AAU Elite 8 tournament, held at Cal’s Recreational Sports Facility, many Golden Bear fans hope the Oakland High senior point guard will continue to feel right at home on the UC Berkeley campus. Scoring the final nine points in Saturday’s first game, including a desperation 4-point play with no time left, and adding another dazzling performance during the championship game, the 6-foot-3 Ubaka thrilled fans and college scouts alike at the weekend tournament.
Though Ubaka has until November to commit to one of the numerous colleges courting him, the rising star says, for now at least, he feels no pressure. In an interview with the Planet, done before Saturday’s first game, the soft-spoken Ubaka talks about basketball, being a kid and his future dreams.
Planet: You just finished with the Las Vegas AAU tournament, the biggest AAU tournament on the West Coast, how did that go and how was the competition?
Ubaka: It was a lot of fun but we were disappointed we didn’t win it. We had a couple of mental mistakes at the end. Other than that everything was good. Everybody played hard. It was definitely a high level of competition.
Planet: Has there been any particular part of your game that you’ve been looking to improve this summer?
Ubaka: I want to try to improve everything. After a long season I took a little break and got rusty. I had to get back in the gym and work hard and get back at the level I was at when the season ended, at the top of my game.
Planet: With your Soldiers teamate Leon Powe (the Oakland Tech standout) verbally committing to Cal last week, have you considered joining him?
Ubaka: I gave it some consideration. But that’s his situation, that’s what’s best for him. I don’t know what’s best for me, that’s what I’m looking for right now. I’m just going for the best situation I can get in. Of course I would love to play with him. He’s my roommate. I already know him and I’m comfortable with him. He’s always telling me I should come. Right now I’m just playing basketball.
Planet: Other than Cal, which schools are you considering?
Ubaka: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and USC.
Planet: Are you familiar with Berkeley? What are your impressions of the city?
Ubaka: I come up here all the time. It’s different, there’s a lot of different people out here. All the different kinds of stuff on the streets that they’re selling.
Planet: What advice have family and friends given you during the decision making process?
Ubaka: I try to get as much information as possible. At the end, when it’s all said and done, I’m just gonna do what I think is best.
Planet: Do you feel any pressure right now to make a decision? If so, how do you handle the pressure?
Ubaka: I just play basketball. I go to the Oakland gym and play or play outside at the playground and get it all out. I try not to stress too much. I’m just a kid. Right now, I should just be playing basketball and going to school and going to the movies. Right now there’s no pressure on me.
Planet: Can Oakland High take down Oakland Tech next year? What’s the rivalry like with Powe?
Ubaka: Me and Leon, we always go at it. We have a friendly rivalry. Both our teams have to get better. They lost a lot of players, we only lost one player. But we’re not going to get better just because we’re older, we have to work hard.
Planet: Finally, what are your thoughts about the future? Do you ever think about the NBA?
Ubaka: If I had the chance I’d probably go to the NBA. It’s been my dream since I was little. Every once in a while I think about it. When I sit back and think about everything, it crosses my mind.