A little more than two years ago, Largo’s coaches took a relative basketball newcomer named Abdulai Bundu to a Five-Star basketball camp. While most area high school players with Division I goals circled that camp and similar elite events on their calendars, Bundu, soon to enter his freshman year, had never heard of it.
When he arrived, Bundu could not believe how far along the campers were — and how much his raw but athletic skills would need to catch up.
“I’d never really heard of kids dunking,” Bundu said. “To see a kid your age, your height go between the legs and put it in threw me off a little bit. Like, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ”
Two years later, Bundu is the most ferocious dunker in Prince George’s County and a formidable defensive deterrent to those who try to return the favor. He has slammed over bigger defenders, loosened the screws on countless area backboards and spiked dozens of shots into the stands with demoralizing force. The 6-foot-8 junior leads area public school boys in scoring at 25 points per game and chips in 12 rebounds.
On Friday, he will lead the Lions (15-7) into a first-round Maryland 2A South region playoff matchup against Friendly.
“I’ve had kids put up big numbers but do it as seniors,” Largo Coach Lewis Howard said. “The way he’s trending, he’s got a chance to be the best player I’ve had in 14 years.”
Bundu’s explosive emergence is as improbable as it has been rapid. Bundu was born in Sierra Leone, where he lived with grandparents, aunts and uncles until his parents could build a stable life in the United States. At age 7, he and his brother boarded a plane for the United States and were picked up by their parents, who had left when Abdulai was 11 months old.
“They had to settle down and get down home, make sure everything was financially set up before we could come here. We understood that point,” said Bundu, who didn’t adjust to calling his parents Mom and Dad until he had lived with them for nearly a year. “One day my mother sat me down and she was like, ‘We’re your real parents,’ this and that. It took me a while, but I started saying ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’ ”
Soccer had been Bundu’s sport in Sierra Leone, and even as he grew tall and lanky for his age in middle school, he still gave no thought to the hardwood. But the Kettering Middle School basketball coach saw Bundu towering over peers in the halls and asked him to try hoops.
At first, Bundu was not interested. Unfortunately for his future opponents at Largo, he eventually relented.
“In my first game, I had, I believe, 15, 16 points. All I did was run the floor. I didn’t know what I was doing,” Bundu said. “Coach told me if you can put the ball in the hoop, you can make a good deal out of it.”
So Bundu worked through the summer and the next high school season with Howard and his coaching staff, honing his skills as he grew. As a sophomore, he dunked for the first time. He admired teammates who earned set lob plays because of their vertical leaps and aerial talents. This season, Bundu emerged as the recipient of most of those lobs — though he has created plenty of memorable dunks on his own, too.
At 190 pounds, Bundu has grown into a versatile and explosive frame, not the bulky build of a traditional forward but rather a chiseled, lean and powerful body of a post-up-or-pull-up swingman — the position he says he’ll likely play in college.
Though smaller opponents on the other end of his dunks and blocks may disagree, Howard said the scary part about Bundu’s basketball future is his work ethic, with which he has made up much of the basketball knowledge he has conceded to more experienced players. Potomac (Md.) Coach Renard Johnson, who watched Bundu score 22 points on his Wolverines in late January with a mix of finesse and ferocity, seems to think he has caught up just fine.
“He is an unbelievable player,” Johnson said. “I have the utmost respect for him. I want more and more guys in the league that can go at guys and pound inside and not back away like that.”
As fearless as Bundu has shown himself to be charging at heavier defenders or dribbling against smaller, quicker ones, he’s also unafraid to admit he’s still far behind almost everyone on the court when it comes to experience.
“I heard someone say once I was the best player on the team. I don’t think so,” Bundu said.
“People have been playing longer than me. They know some things that I don’t know, so it’s always a teaching moment. I’m not caught up. I still have a lot to learn.”