Sam Alajiki grew up in Dundalk but is now based in California on a basketball scholarship
Sam Alajiki once dreamt of playing for Dundalk FC – but now his sole focus lies on making it as an NBA star in America.
The 19-year-old, who grew up in Bay Estate before moving to London and then the US, was named on the Ireland U20 squad for the upcoming European Championships in Georgia, where their group opponents include Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria.
For various reasons, it’s Alajiki’s first call-up and a long way from his humble beginnings with Dundalk Ravens under coach Fu Faapito.
He’s currently studying Business Administration while on scholarship at University of California, having only moved across the Atlantic less than three years ago.
"In previous years I just wasn’t available to play because I had commitments at college,” he says of his call-up.
"My coach let me go for the two weeks this time around. I couldn’t go last year because it was my first year and it wouldn’t have been the best thing for my college basketball if I was to miss the summer – that’s where you really get ready for the season.
"But it’s a big thing when you get to play for your country, of course, and I’ll just be trying to do everybody proud – I hope to do that.
"I watch a lot of basketball and this competition will be a high level, but I look at our team and see the amount of guys who are playing in America and holding their own, and I think we’ve a good shot at winning the tournament.”
And a competition victory would certainly be another step in the right direction for Sam, whose career is on an upwardly-mobile trajectory – a long way from his schoolboys’ league days with Glenmuir.
"It was always a dream,” he adds, when asked if he thought playing Stateside was always a possibility.
"But until it really came close to me, I wasn’t really fixating on it. It felt kind of unrealistic because I hadn’t seen that many people do it before, but as I kept moving up a level, there was an element of realism to it.
"In the summer of 2019, I played for Ireland 3vs3 in Italy and did really well. I was the top-scorer so from there, the recruitment service I was working with, they let me know about places in the US that wanted me to come over and play on scholarship.
“I got into Beckley Prep School in West Virginia and I spent a year there where I got six Division 1 offers to play in college.
“For my last year (at school), I went to St Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey and a few NBA players have been there so I felt it was the step to take.
“I got about 10 more offers after that by November 2020 and then I committed to play for the University of California.”
Incidentally, Sam hasn’t lived in Dundalk since he was 11. He relocated to London with his mother, spending five years in the English capital prior to hopping across the Atlantic. Yet he remains firmly in touch with his hometown. His father and portions of his family still reside locally and he would line-out for the Ravens as often as possible while away.
As a youngster, in Bay Estate primary school, he played both codes of GAA and recalls watching Louth as a juvenile.
“I was into everything,” he says, smiling.
"I keep in touch with all my friends I grew up playing with too. The call-up news was on Instagram and all my friends got to see it there.”
Yet for all his humility, the 6’ 7’’ forward has his eyes fixed on reaching the top.
“I want to play in the NBA and so it’s about working hard and having a good season so that I can reach there, hopefully.”
A win at July’s Euros couldn’t do his CV any harm in this pursuit.