Selom Mawugbe, the 6’10” junior from Santa Clarita, California. is perhaps the most recognizable player on Azusa Pacific’s men’s basketball team. Many know Mawugbe from his dominance on the court or his overwhelming presence on campus, but a great deal of humbleness comes along with that big smile and height.
Originally from Palmdale, California. Mawugbe moved around a bit before he, his parents and two siblings, Sena and Selasi, settled in the Canyon Country area of Santa Clarita. Mawugbe’s father, Semanu, and mother, Eugenia, emigrated from Ghana to the U.S. in the 1980s in hopes of giving a family a better life.
Much of Selom’s early life consisted of being a multi-sport athlete with great interest in bike riding and soccer. Mawugbe’s father was on the Ghana national team for cycling and visited the U.S. for the first time because of it. Selom’s love for soccer came from his mother who also played.
“Soccer was my main sport growing up. I played for seven years before I started basketball my freshman year,” Mawugbe said. “Once I grew past a certain point, it was, like, okay this might not be the right sport for me.”
It was a process for Mawugbe. It went from riding bikes with his family and having a youth career in soccer, to finally being on the basketball court and making the varsity team his sophomore year of high school. Mawugbe’s best friend and teammate, in both high school and at APU, Ben Taufahema, has witnessed this process firsthand.
“When I first met Selom, we were the same height,” Taufahema laughed. “He was on the varsity team his sophomore year and each year I could see him grow, not only physically, but with his game as well.”
“Playing on varsity was a lot of fun together, especially being best friends,” Taufahema said “ He is like my little brother so we got to see each other get better every year, and it was honestly insane watching Selom become the player he is now.”
That process caught the attention of men’s basketball head coach Justin Leslie.
“When I first saw Selom, we were actually recruiting his teammate Ben Taufahema. We saw Selom in the summer going into his sophomore year with the junior varsity team at a summer shootout we hosted,” Leslie said. “I immediately recognized him because his coach was mistakenly mispronouncing his name so frequently.”
The mispronunciation of Mawugbe’s name stuck with Leslie. The following summer, Leslie remembered young Selom .
“The next year I thought to myself, ‘Well, oh, he grew a bit and has definitely improved,” Leslie said. “It was Ben’s senior year, and we were still recruiting him so we were able to follow Selom. He must have grown four plus inches the next two years and we ended up recruiting him too.”
Leslie explained there was a specific moment he witnessed that made him know Mawugbe had the potential to become something special.
“They were in a high school game against St. John Bosco , who had some high level guards. Watching the game, the score at halftime was 20-12, but it could’ve easily been 40-12 if Selom didn’t have 10 blocked shots in the first half,” Leslie said.
Perhaps Leslie saw a glimpse of the future, as Selom last season, broke the record for most blocked shots in a season with (89) previous record was (88). This record was previously held by Leslie, from his playing days at APU. Leslie was not disappointed in Mawugbe breaking his record. “I told him my goal was to have you be the guy to break my records –– I just didn’t expect for him to get it this quick,” Leslie said. “Selom is extremely humble, but he was proud of the accomplishment.”
Coach Leslie went on to say how Mawugbe being the guy he is and a player that he has so much respect for makes it a great thing for him being the one to break the record.
Mawugbe credited a lot of his success to Leslie because he helped him improve on his game in one on one sessions. Mawugbe wasn’t actually aware of his new record until he got a text from a teammates relative.
Mawugbe still has another season and a half left to play at APU. He shared his goals to continue to improve not only on the defensive end, but from the free throw line and his general offensive play as well. Last summer, Mawugbe played in the Drew League, a league that features many big name players and tough competition.
“The Drew League was a great experience. I am very fortunate for the opportunity to play in it. The league is very one on one scoring oriented, but my team was pass first centered, so I was able to get the ball often,” Mawugbe said. “I feel like I held my own against guys who were faster, stronger and older than me.”
There is legitimate belief in the APU basketball community that Mawugbe has professional potential. Mawugbe and Leslie believe he can get an opportunity to play in the NBA if he continues to dominate on the defensive end and becomes a bigger factor on the offensive end as well.
The ultimate goal for Mawugbe is to get a chance to play professionally or in the NBA. However, he is also interested in his field of study, and medicine. Mawugbe is a biology major.
“Originally I was thinking medicine. I still am, but in a sense that is down the line and not first priority to me. Business and medicine, maybe even opening my own medical practice would be great,” Mawugbe said.
Mawugbe enjoys his time at APU. He ultimately chose APU because of the faith integration, as well as APU’s competitive basketball program.
“APU was able to give me a great scholarship. At the end of the day, you want to go to a school that’s the smart choice financially,” Mawugbe said. “The Christ centered environment and great basketball program was what I wanted.”
Mawugbe’s ceiling is very high, not just literally, but for his future opportunities as well. His humbleness, capability to block shots and ability to be a positive mood on and off the court makes him who he is. There’s still a lot to come from Selom Mawugbe, and we will all be witnesses to the process.