This spring, Cal Poly alumnus David Nwaba (Sociology, ’16) became the first former Mustang to play in the National Basketball Association. After spending most of the 2016-17 season with the NBA Development League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders, Nwaba made his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers against the Charlotte Hornets.
“I’ve been getting a lot of love,” said Nwaba of the support he’s felt from the Cal Poly community since his NBA debut. “It’s a great feeling that I’m representing a lot of people — a whole town. I’m just enjoying every second of it.”
Nwaba, a Los Angeles native, always had dreams of playing basketball professionally. An energetic defender and strong finisher at the rim, Nwaba helped Cal Poly earn its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014. After graduating from Cal Poly last year, he targeted the NBA Developmental League, where he had to try out in the preseason, eventually earning a spot with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. By the middle of the season, he went from a fringe player to being what D-Fenders coach Coby Karl called “probably the best defender in our league.”
After months of showcasing his defensive skills, athleticism and coachability, the Lakers decided to give Nwaba chance in the NBA with a 10-day trial contract. His play earned him a second 10-day contract, and finally a guaranteed contract for the rest of the season, with a team option for 2017-18.
“Every game, every day I play, I have to give a 100 percent effort and showcase my skills and what I can bring to the table,” said Nwaba. “Every day is an opportunity to get better, and every day is an opportunity to show them a little bit more. I’m glad I have the rest of the season to do that.”
Although the Lakers failed to make the playoffs this season, Nwaba almost immediately impressed coaches and fans with his unselfish style of play — no surprise to those who watched and played with him in San Luis Obispo for the past three years.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton saw Nwaba’s defensive skills and work ethic make an impact on the team in the 20 games he played during the final weeks of the season. “I’m not surprised because it’s what Coby Karl had been telling me about him,” said Walton. “But I’m impressed with the way he’s responded to the opportunity.”