To most people, basketball is just a game. To Koki Adasi-Efuya, it’s been a pivot point in life.

At Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., he walked onto the team his first two years, then earned a sports scholarship for the rest.

During and after college, he held brief stints with a security-system company and utensils manufacturer Cutco Corp., and by 2005, he wound up working in accounts payable at Bethesda’s Seawright Homes. In his free time, he played in a men’s basketball league.

After a year on the job, Adasi-Efuya knew 9-to-5 life wasn’t for him. One of his basketball teammates — a real estate agent — suggested that working in home sales might be his thing: It offers no steady paycheck, but also no boss and no ceiling on income. So Adasi-Efuya signed up for a pre-licensing class at the Long & Foster Institute of Real Estate (800-635-2913).

Many real estate companies and community colleges are approved providers of classes that can help newbies earn their license. The Long & Foster Institute of Real Estate, for instance, offers the 60 hours of training required to earn a real-estate license by D.C., Maryland and Virginia at nearly two dozen area locations and online. But passing this class and the state test is just the beginning.

Adasi-Efuya didn’t expect the beginning to come so soon. After getting licensed in January 2006, he told his manager he planned to leave late that year for a new career. Fine, the manager said — but in May, Adasi-Efuya arrived at work to find his computer locked.

“I was frustrated,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to be on my own yet.”

The pre-licensing class Adasi-Efuya had taken “teaches you a little bit about everything, like a liberal arts education,” says Nick D’Ambrosia, the vice president for Long & Foster’s training and recruiting. To gain specific skills, a novice must hook up with a company that offers more. Enter Long & Foster again, a company Adasi-Efuya chose because of its large Washington presence and good reputation for training.

Long & Foster has 500 career-spanning courses; its free Star Builders program — in which Adasi-Efuya enrolled — gives new company affiliates two weeks of instruction, homework and interaction with managers on all aspects of the business, from showing a house to qualifying clients for a mortgage to handling contracts.

Starting out on commission is hard; missing months of expected savings makes it harder. “My parents said, ‘You’re crazy; you need to get a job,'” Adasi-Efuya recalls of his start as an agent. But “I was passionate about it and knew eventually it would pay off.”

Day after day, he reported to Long & Foster’s King Farm office in Rockville. There were advising sessions and coaching but not a sale until November. Basketball and networking brought in clients, and suddenly the payoffs piled up: In the summer of 2007, Adasi-Efuya earned twice what he’d made in a year in accounts payable. In 2008, he was named one of Realtor Magazine’s “30 Under 30” rising stars nationally. Last year, he hired an assistant.

The 28-year-old likes helping others pivot in life, whether it’s buying a first home, moving up, or selling one after a death. He’s less thrilled about round-the-clock phone calls and indecisive clients. But the guy who once lost a job because of real estate found the recession a boon: “The worse the market got, the busier I got.” Working in all three jurisdictions, the Columbia Heights resident drives 20,000 miles a year.

Adasi-Efuya represented himself when he bought a condo; soon he’ll start investing in real estate. Meanwhile, he advises new agents to expect a slow start and to invest in shoe leather: His own days, including prospecting, or seeking leads on future transactions, can run as long as 12 hours.

“We have lots of career changers and people coming back to the work force,” Long & Foster’s D’Ambrosia says. Though Adasi-Efuya is among the younger agents, he’s at the forefront: “New, younger buyers don’t want to communicate in traditional ways. Koki and other associates who understand social media will do well.”

Unfortunately, doing well — Adasi-Efuya had 15 properties under contract in May alone — leaves less time for roundball. “When you run your own business, you’re the marketing director, the finance director, everything,” he sighs. But his grin shows that this career is a slam dunk.

Written by Express contributor Ellen Ryan
Photo by Eric Kemp