Second time lucky for Mountain Airs' Braimoh

MAN MOUNTAIN: Taranaki’s newest import Suleiman Braimoh.
MAN MOUNTAIN: Taranaki’s newest import Suleiman Braimoh.

A year later than anticipated, Suleiman Braimoh finally gets to be a Taranaki Mountain Air. Murray Hills catches up with the basketball big man.

Taranaki Mountain Airs big man Suleiman Braimoh has finally arrived - more than 12 months after he was originally signed.

Taranaki netted Braimoh before the start of the 2013 season but problems with his work visa ruled him out.

Thankfully, that's been sorted and the Nigeria-born Braimoh made it through customs in Auckland after flying in from his home in the United States on Thursday.

Tomorrow afternoon, the 2.03m (6ft 8in) and 104kg (230lb) forward will play his first National Basketball League match for his new team when the Airs take on the Manawatu Jets at the TSB Stadium in New Plymouth.

"I'm definitely looking forward to playing," said the 24-year-old who was born in Benin City, Nigeria and moved to the States with his parents in 2001.

"It was very disappointing not to come last year. I'd been playing in Qatar where I won a championship with Rayyan. I was on a high and had been looking forward to riding that wave and having some more success with Taranaki."

Instead of a season with Taranaki, Braimoh headed back to the States.

"From October to February, I played in Japan. That was challenging. Each team is allowed four imports and the Japanese players are pretty good," he said.

"It was a good experience. I learnt a lot and picked up a few key words to help me survive."

Braimoh jumped at a second chance to play in New Zealand.

"When my agent approached me about playing for Taranaki, I jumped at it. I've heard so much about the New Zealand league."

Braimoh said his good friend Chris Hagan had filled him in on the league.

"He played for the Manawatu Jets for three years. Every time we skype or talk, he's been telling me about the league. I'm looking forward to it."

Braimoh said his strengths on court were his defence and rebounding.

"I like to consider myself a versatile player . . . rebounding and defence. They're two things I focus a lot of my energy on when I'm on court. But I don't mind putting the ball in the hoop either, it's never been an issue," he said.

"And I like to put on some kind of show when I play. I like the crowd getting involved."

Braimoh had his first practice with his new team-mates on Thursday night.

"Things went well. It was nice to get my feet under me after a long flight. It got the juices flowing," he said.

"I learnt a few sets and we've got two more runs before Sunday. By then, I should be feeling well. I'm definitely keen to get out on court and help this team."

Braimoh said he had been told the Mountain Airs were a very young side.

"Hey, but I think I'm young myself. The young guys have a lot of potential and they're only going to get better over the course of the season. I'll learn a lot as well."

And he's impressed with his lodgings in Oakura. He shares a beach-front house with team-mates Adrian Oliver and Nash Oh.

"I love this," he says looking out at the sea. "I've sent some pics home already.

"This is a nice place, I love the city [New Plymouth]. I'm slowly finding my way around. It's beautiful."

Good Home Mountain Airs coach Daryn Shaw said he was delighted to have Braimoh on his playing roster.

"He's exactly what we need. He's big and, from what I saw at training on Thursday night, he's got the skills we need . . . and he had only just got off the plane," he said.

"He's tough and he'll play hard inside. He's also a nice guy. I think we've got a real steal."

As for Manawatu, Shaw expected a tough workout tomorrow.

"They're title contenders for sure," he said.

"They've got good players, are a well balanced side and well coached.

"They'll be really competitive and this game will give us a good idea of just where we are."

Taranaki Daily News