Tundes job: make practice perfect
Benson grad puts enthusiasm, skills to work for Stanford
If Hollywood hadn't already made the movie about the li'l athlete who wouldn't take no for an answer, one Portlander's story would be ripe for a script. Maybe Denzel Washington could be the star.
'Tunde' has all the makings of 'Rudy,' the movie about the pint-size Notre Dame football player who took his beatings in practice before finally playing in a game for the Irish.
Olatunde Sobomehin, a 1998 Benson High graduate, served three years as manager for Stanford's basketball team. The man known as 'Tunde' (pronounced tune-dee) constantly bugged coach Mike Montgomery and his assistants for an opportunity to play.
'Basketball and athletics and team have always been part of my life,' says Sobomehin, captain of Benson's '98 Class 4A state finalist.
Time after time, Montgomery turned him down, saying he had enough players and did not need the services of the 5-foot-11 Sobomehin.
Finally, last offseason, Montgomery gave Tunde his shot. He stayed in Palo Alto, Calif., last summer and worked out. 'I got my skills up, especially on defense,' he says.
Two weeks into practice, he got the word.
'They wanted me on the squad,' Sobomehin says. 'This team has to work, and they needed somebody to push them. My goal is to be the fire for the team when there's no more fire left. My role is not in games, it's in practice every day.
'This team was going to have to create a character of working hard, and I was going to help with that by always running my hardest in drills, giving my all on defense and paying attention to the coach. Those qualities would make our team good.'
'Tunde is the best,' teammate Danny Grunfeld says. 'People think he's the manager, and he got his way onto the team that way. No, he plays well. It kind of looks like a favor, but he comes to practice and pushes people. He's a really good player.'
Sobomehin, a Southeast Portlander who played at Benson with Ben Coffee, Craig Lewis and Boomer Brazzle, pays his own way at Stanford, with the help of about $30,000 in need-based financial aid. His parents work for nonprofit organizations in Portland.
Sobomehin had to give up his paying job as team manager, but the dollars hardly equal the reward of playing for the Cardinal, who reached the nation's top 25 this week. Sobomehin returns to his home state this week for games against Oregon and Oregon State.
Last month, he got his one minute of fame against Oregon.
'We were, surprisingly so, up significantly against them, and the coaches felt they could put me in,' he says. 'I got in, and it was the greatest feeling. I didn't score, didn't even get a shot up Ñ tried taking it to the hole and realized how big they were. I took a couple passes and defended 94 feet.
'They call me '94 Feet' on the team.'
He hopes to get into another game. His big day will be in June, however, when he graduates with a degree in urban studies.
'I went to Stanford to be better educated, and to eventually make social change,' he says.