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#NBABreakout: Festus Ezeli is primed for a breakout year

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In a recent poll, the GSoM community predicted that Festus Ezeli will have a break-out year in 2015-2016. We look back at his career thus far while envisioning his potential moving forward.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Festus Ezeli will be 26 in October.

It has been a full 11 years since he graduated from a Nigerian high school at the age of 14. At the time, he aspired to be a physician.

In 2004, with an eye towards achieving academic and career success, his parents sent him to live with a pediatrician uncle in California. Yuba City, in fact, near Sacramento.

He had never played basketball before, but, standing at 6'8" by the age of fifteen, his uncle encouraged him to give the American game a shot. However, because he had graduated from high school already, he couldn't play on any California high school teams. The first time he was ever on an organized team was when he played AAU ball in 2007, averaging 10 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks.

He was seventeen, he had grown to 6'11". Scholarships poured in, even though he was still barely grasping the rough fundamentals of the sport.

He chose Vanderbilt, in part because they had a highly touted Australian recruit coming in, and it would afford Festus an opportunity to red-shirt and learn the game.

The recruit's name was Andrew Ogilvy.

At first, Ogilvy dominated the inexperienced Festus, scoring over him at will. But as Ezeli grew stronger, and as he voraciously studied film, he started to hold his own in practice.

It would not be the first time Ezeli would sit and learn behind a more highly heralded Australian center.

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In game six in the NBA finals, Festus Ezeli put his stamp on the game.

This, from nba.com's official recap:

[...] the Cavs opened on a 4-0 run to ultimately regain the lead at 47-45 just over a minute into the third quarter. It didn't last for long, however, as the Warriors immediately responded with a 9-0 run of their own to get back on top. Golden State then held Cleveland to only four made field goals for the rest of the quarter, as the Warriors stretched their lead thanks to contributions from an unlikely source. Festus Ezeli scored eight consecutive points for the Dubs over a span of 2:35 to put his team up 71-58 with 1:32 left to play in the quarter. Draymond Green followed that with a bank shot to give the Warriors a 15-point lead, placing the Cavs in a position that no other team in 58 tries had been able to overcome this season; that is, erase that 15 point lead and come back all the way to win. Cleveland closed the third frame on a 3-0 run, but ultimately, the Cavs had dug themselves too deep a hole.

Straight. Shivers.

Remembering.

Remembering how I felt during game six.

Seems like a lifetime ago.

Andrew Bogut, the great Aussie, had been demoted the bench. In both games five and six, he received a DNP-CD from Mr. Steve Kerr.

But not to worry, he wasn't hurt by the decision.

Andre Iguodala was inserted into the line up, and as we all know ended up winning the Finals MVP award.

Playing minutes at center in place of the benched Bogut? Nimble, strong Ezeli, who logged only three minutes in game five, but had those eye-opening 11 minutes in the decisive game six.

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It is easy to forget that Festus has only played two seasons.

His advanced stats from his career thus far are fairly revealing.

Notice the jump in PER. Even though he played significantly less minutes (1120 MP compared to 504 MP last year), his PER jumped from 9.3 to 16.2. Another stat that stuck out was his TS% numbers, which rose from 47.9% to 56.1%.

When Nate recently asked the community who we thought would be the breakout star for 2015-2016, 37% of us answered Festus. Harrison Barnes was a close second, with 34% of the vote.

glib1 summed it up best, with the very first comment:

Festus
of course. Everyone else has already broken out.

by glib1 on Aug 31, 2015 | 9:01 AM

I'm not the first to write about Ezeli, obviously. His potential has been under the microscope all off-season. Perhaps it's the dog days of August. Perhaps we are digging through the detritus, bemoaning a dearth of basketball news.

But if he keeps up his hard work — if he keeps voraciously studying film and battling more highly touted Australian prospects in practice — Festus has a legitimate shot to become one of the better centers in the league. He has the physical tools, he has the commitment, and he has the desire.

All he needs now is to keep playing basketball.

He only touched a basketball for the first time 11 years ago. And here he is, dominating for stretches on the world's biggest stage. In the Finals. With the weight of a nation and the history of a continent on his back.

Apartheid in Afrikaans means 'separation'. It was a means of White Domination and it was achieved by racial segregation in South Africa. In 1948, with the help of the National Party, racial discrimination was institutionalized (apartheid laws). Nelson Mandela, as part of the African National Congress, fought for the Human Rights of the 'colored'. He was imprisoned for 27 years. Even though the ppl endured many hardships and severe cruelty, they never gave up their fight for reform. Eventually it came when the Apartheid was lifted in 1994. The cell I am standing in here, is one where this activists were held. There was a law that these ppl would be held in these cells for 90days before their trial. That eventually increased to 180 to 360 and then 540 days that activists would be held without trial. As I learn about all these facts, I can't help but feel blessed about the opportunity that we all have today as a result of the fight of the people of the past. I'm so thankful that I can come to South Africa and do what I do now because of that. We have come a long way as a people and we still have a long way to go #thankyoumadibaforthisprivilege #earlymorningthoughts #AFRICANBOY

A photo posted by Festus Ezeli (@fezzyfel) on

Apartheid in Afrikaans means 'separation'. It was a means of White Domination and it was achieved by racial segregation in South Africa. In 1948, with the help of the National Party, racial discrimination was institutionalized (apartheid laws). Nelson Mandela, as part of the African National Congress, fought for the Human Rights of the 'colored'. He was imprisoned for 27 years. Even though the ppl endured many hardships and severe cruelty, they never gave up their fight for reform. Eventually it came when the Apartheid was lifted in 1994. The cell I am standing in here, is one where this activists were held. There was a law that these ppl would be held in these cells for 90days before their trial. That eventually increased to 180 to 360 and then 540 days that activists would be held without trial. As I learn about all these facts, I can't help but feel blessed about the opportunity that we all have today as a result of the fight of the people of the past. I'm so thankful that I can come to South Africa and do what I do now because of that. We have come a long way as a people and we still have a long way to go #thankyoumadibaforthisprivilege #earlymorningthoughts #AFRICANBOY

He is thoughtful, he is dominant. He is strong, he is reserved.

He can be what he desires, all he needs to do is keep working.

Festus, the boy wonder who may well be smarter than anyone else in the locker room, is putting it all together.

If all goes well, he just might take over this league.