When Jonathon Nicola arrived in Ontario in November as a refugee from South Sudan, the believed-to-be 17-year-old was thought to be a natural fit for the boys’ basketball team at Catholic Central High School in London, standing at 6 feet 9 inches.
The team’s basketball coach, Pete Cusumano, whom Nicola lived with, believed that Nicola could play with the NBA some day.
However, as it turns out, Nicola’s potential NBA days are way past him: Canadian authorities believe that he is 30 years old.
On Wednesday the Canada Border Services Agency announced Nicola’s arrest for violating the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, the Washington Post reports.
According to the report, Nicola came to Canada through a program called Canada Homestay, which finds homes for foreign students. He was there on a student visa. On Tuesday the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board ruled that Nicola should remain in custody, and scheduled another hearing for next week.
Cusumano said that he was not allowed to talk about Nicola, and school officials also would not discuss the topic. However, the Windsor Star reported in January that Cusumano boasted about Nicola’s basketball skills, pointing to the fact that Nicola, who came to the school as an 11th-grader, had only been playing organized basketball for a few months.
“I think this kid will have a chance at the NBA,” Cusumano said. “I have never said that about any kid from Windsor.”
The Star recounted a touching tale of how basketball was opening doors for the then-thought-to-be teen. Apparently another Sudanese basketball player, Deng D’Awol, who played college basketball in the U.S., saw Nicola playing while coaching in South Sudan. D’Awol, who played youth basketball in Canada with the son of former Canadian ambassador to Tanzania Patricia Marsden-Dole, sought help for Nicola through his connection. At some point, Nicole found his way to Cusumano, who submitted Nicola’s application to Canada Homestay.
“If I had the opportunity to go to the NBA, I would definitely go,” Nicola said at the time. “My big deal is the education. This is my main thing.”
Nicola even had a bunch of gear and shoes donated to him by the Detroit Pistons.
Read more at the Washington Post and the Windsor Star.