I had the opportunity to interview my client, Tobe Awaka, who is one of the Tennessee Volunteers Men’s Basketball Team’s biggest weapons returning next season. Who doesn’t enjoy watching his athletic 6’8, 250 lb. frame overpower, out-rebound and out-hustle his opponents? Throughout his true Freshman season, Awaka remained a consistent and reliable defending and rebounding force in Coach Rick Barnes’ rotation all the way to the Sweet 16 at the 2023 NCAA Tournament. But what you may know about him is his authentic kindness, humility and incredible work ethic – or his high intellect and academic performance (he presently enjoys a 3.9 GPA). By any measure, Awaka is an outstanding basketball player. But he is an even better person. The following is part of our discussion:
EMB: Thanks for sitting down with me. Why did you choose UT – Knoxville?
TA: I chose UT because I wanted to play high-level basketball for who I think is one of the all-time great coaches. During a time when recruitment was slow from other schools, UT kept communicating with me. Once UT decided to take a chance on me, I took that to heart, decided to commit and never looked back. And I am so grateful I did. It has been the best decision of my life.
EMB: What is your favorite memory from the 2022-2023 season?
TA: My favorite memory of this past season was definitely beating Duke in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16. It’s hard for me to explain the feeling of winning that game – as a team. I am and always will be proud of that team and the adversity we overcame as a group.
EMB: Are you excited about trying out for USA Basketball in June?
TA: I am very honored and excited! The opportunity to play for my country means a great deal to my parents, family and me. I leave in June. I am working every day to prepare.
EMB: What do you think about NIL?
TA: I think that NIL is a great concept when used ethically. I believe that allowing college athletes to be paid for their likeness is a tremendous step when it comes to student athlete empowerment.
EMB: What are some of the positives from NIL you have experienced?
TA: I have seen several positives from NIL, including providing me with an increased platform to share my opinions and voice, along with who I am as a person; some much-needed money for living expenses and costs; increasing my direct connection and interaction with the Vol Nation fan base; and an increased profile for my team and name in the community and, in some cases, across the country.
EMB: How would you describe your first playing experience in Thompson Boling Arena?
TA: Electric! It was surreal playing for the first time in the arena, understanding all the history that has happened on that court and all the players who have stepped on it. I am very proud of and deeply thankful for our fans.
EMB: What are some of the positives about Knoxville, the area and the community/people?
TA: I love the way that the people of Knoxville gather to support their teams. It’s truly an environment that I have never been in and I know is hard to replicate and experience anywhere else. Seeing people walking the streets hours before a football game or watching fans fill Thompson Boling Arena when we are only out for warmups is something that I truly appreciate about the Knoxville community.