Maryland, Georgetown battling for local recruit Moses Abraham

At 6 feet 8, Moses Ayegba's rare skill set intrigued the Hoyas since he arrived in the United States.
At 6 feet 8, Moses Ayegba's rare skill set intrigued the Hoyas since he arrived in the United States. (Photos By Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Even as a 9-year-old attending seminary school in Kano, Nigeria, the tall boy with the long arms dreamed he could be a good basketball player. But Moses Abraham thought he wanted to grow up to be a Catholic priest back then, so he played the sport only once or twice a month.

Ten years later, Abraham stands 6 feet 9 and weighs 237 pounds. Though still religious, he has turned his focus to basketball, and less than four months after arriving in the United States, Abraham has become a highly sought-after prospect in the 2010 recruiting class.

On Sunday, Abraham will make his college choice, and while many Division I bluebloods have demonstrated considerable interest in obtaining his services, Abraham is expected to decide between the two schools that have pursued him since nearly the day he stepped on United States soil. Georgetown or Maryland? The region's most prominent college basketball programs await his answer.

Abraham arrived at Dulles International Airport on Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving, sulking under the weight of his only possession: a backpack. He came under the care of Joseph Boncore, a former Good Counsel assistant who now trains and looks after international players. In the coming months, Abraham lived at a boarding house near Progressive Christian Academy, where he attended class and competed on the basketball squad. On the weekends, he stayed with Boncore at his Rockville residence.

Foreign players typically spend more than one year at high schools or prep schools adjusting to American culture and basketball style, but Abraham plans to enroll at a university less than 10 months after departing his home country.

For college coaches looking to fill a remaining spot in their 2010 recruiting class with a high-ceiling big man, Abraham represents a grand opportunity. Consequently, the likes of Texas, Kentucky, Florida, UCLA, Connecticut, Tennessee and Indiana have shown up to make their respective sales pitches.

But Georgetown and Maryland possess the edge of having been involved with Abraham from the very beginning, and each program has reason to believe it will be his choice Sunday.

Boncore said Thursday he did not know which school Abraham would pick and left open the possibility that Abraham might surprise everyone with his decision. When Boncore asked Abraham a week ago which direction he might be leaning, Abraham responded, "I want to still do all the cards."

Trust on Terrapins' side

Boncore once was a well-renowned chef and spent the early part of his adulthood making good money in the kitchens of different high-class restaurants across the country. One day, he said his boss and childhood friend, Mamma Lucia's co-owner Jimmy Fragoyannis, could tell that he was unhappy in his work and suggested Boncore return to his first passion: basketball.

A 5-foot-11 point guard, Boncore grew up on military bases overseas and said he remains the career assists leader for military high schools in Italy. Boncore said Maryland basketball games were the only live college basketball contests that were broadcast over the radio on the military bases.

"Me and my brothers would listen to Adrian Branch playing against Ralph Sampson," Boncore said. "We grew up listening to Maryland basketball even though we never saw them play. We heard about Albert King and Buck Williams, and those were our heroes."

Boncore took Fragoyannis's advice and, through old connections, began training American high school players in the D.C. area, where he has family ties. These days, he drives an airport shuttle and occasionally fills in as a chef at local restaurants.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company