David Nwaba displays perseverance in journey from University High to Lakers

Lakers guard David Nwaba, right, presents his high school coach, Los Angeles University’s Steve Ackerman, with a souvenir jersey.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

One by one, students pulled out their smartphones and asked to take selfies with Lakers guard David Nwaba in the Los Angeles University gym.

Nwaba had dropped by his alma mater for an interview, and now he was graciously posing for photos, smiling and putting his arm around each student.

University Coach Steve Ackerman finally decided to appoint himself Nwaba’s bodyguard and escort him out of the gym.


Ackerman, in his 13th season as basketball coach, has had former players return with impressive adult resumes — a dentist, sports agent, fire marshal, professor, pastor, teacher, doctor. But to have one of his players return as a Laker …

“It’s a great human interest story,” Ackerman said. “Not highly recruited out of high school, not drafted into the NBA directly … everything about his rise to his spot on the Lakers is really a made-for-TV after-school special.”

Perseverance and positive parents help explain Nwaba’s success.

Despite being a three-time All-City player by the time he graduated from University in 2011, the only scholarship offer for Nwaba was from Hawaii Pacific, where he redshirted one year before transferring to Santa Monica College.

Then he went for three years to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before joining the NBA Development League. The Lakers signed him to two 10-day contracts before he signed a two-year contract last March.

Lakers guard has many fans at University High.

“I just had confidence in myself,” Nwaba said about his perseverance. “I just felt I had to prove a lot of people wrong who didn’t believe in me. Just believing in myself made me get to where I am now.”

The 6-foot-4 Nwaba has never been considered a superior shooter, but his athleticism and devotion to playing defense made him stand out and helped earn him a roster spot on the Lakers.

David Nwaba defends Cleveland's LeBron James on March 19.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

“I knew what I had to do, how much time I had to put in the gym,” he said.

How many 24-year-olds can say they got to play against LeBron James?

“It was an honor to guard him,” Nwaba said.

Then there’s his mother, Blessing, a nurse, and his father, Theodore, a real estate agent. Both are natives of Nigeria.

“They’re definitely always positive, always believing in me, praying for me, telling me wise words,” he said. “Wherever I go and every step I take, they have my back no matter what.”

His mother called him every day.

“Just to hear her voice was motivation to keep going, continue to keep fighting, continue to try to reach my dreams,” he said.

David Nwaba shoots against New Orleans' Cheick Diallo on April 11.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Nwaba brought a Lakers jersey with his name on it for Ackerman to frame and put up in the University gym.

Ackerman attended four of Nwaba’s games at Staples Center last season.

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Ackerman said. “I felt like a proud father. I had a grin from ear to ear.”

Nwaba begins workouts next week to prepare for the NBA summer league, where he plans to work on his shooting. He knows he has to perform and keep getting better to stay in the NBA. But he’s happy to share his story and embrace those around University High.

“Everyone is proud of me and my journey,” he said.

Twitter: latsondheimer