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Friedrich Ebede, who stands 6-foot-6, is a high-flying freshman swingman. In his senior year of high school, Ebede captured a New York dunk contest. [Ben Rosenau/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

There is certainly one thing that has been a common thread throughout Penn freshman Friedrich Ebede's life, and that's basketball.

That's not to say that it's been the only thing, or the most important thing, but it has always been there.

Growing up in Dovala, Cameroon, basketball was never on the top of Ebede's priority list. Instead, soccer was his passion.

"I played basketball all the time, but just for pasttime," Ebede said.

But at night, after dinner was finished and schoolwork completed, the soccer field was dark.

"At night we couldn't go to the soccer field, so the only field that had lights was the basketball court," Ebede said. "We couldn't go to the basketball court and play soccer while other people were playing basketball, so we had to play basketball.

"So that's basically how I started playing basketball."

And after he incurred a serious injury playing soccer, his parents forced him to redirect his attention on another sport.

That's when he started getting serious about basketball.

But basketball is not the reason why Ebede is at Penn, and it's not the reason why he's in the United States.

"I never would have thought for one second that I would come to the U.S. for college," he said. "I left Cameroon for personal reasons, obviously. I didn't have a choice, but I did what I had to do."

His acclimation to the United States, since leaving Cameroon over three years ago, has been difficult. He's seen only his two siblings, who live in France, since he left.

Ebede moved initially to Washington, D.C., for a short period of eight months.

He then packed up his bags and headed to Wilmington, Del., where he would finish high school at Wilmington Friends. Ebede lived with a host-family that he still stays close with, part of his motivation for attending Penn.

"It was a combination of both academics and athletics that influenced my decision," Ebede said. "I knew it would be easy for my host-family and friends and people I know from Wilmington to come and watch some of my games.

"Also, I didn't have anything against it."

After technically completing his high school education at Wilmington Friends, Ebede decided to defer on college for another year.

According to Ebede, it was a year well spent. At Northfield Mount Hermon boarding school in Massachusetts, he improved his English in preparation for the college classroom and worked on his basketball game.

"I grew up a little bit as a player," Ebede said. "I also grew as a person."

His high school stats are impressive. Last year, he not only won a 2002 slam dunk contest in New York City, he was also named All-New England.

As a versatile guard/forward, Ebede notched an average of 20.7 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per contest at Northfield Mount Hermon.

He also tallied 68 steals -- a testament to his agility and speed on the court.

And although Ebede enjoys his time on the court, the transition to college life has not been one without event.

The academics are tough, the workouts are rigorous and there is little time to slow down.

"I meet a lot of interesting people," he said. "I would qualify my experience here so far as OK."

But Ebede, who misses his hometown in Cameroon, admits that if given the chance, he would return home without hesitation.

"Sometimes things don't go the way you want," he said. "But it helps just looking towards the future."

Until that time, Ebede will continue to plug along as one of two freshmen on a highly-talented and experienced 2002-2003 Penn basketball squad. For it being just a pasttime for Ebede, it's going remarkably well.

"Playing good basketball is always a pleasure," he said.

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