This is one in an occasional, ongoing series about former NBA star and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony’s Team Melo spring and summer program and their elite youth basketball players.

At one juncture of last Tuesday night’s Team Melo practice in Halethorpe, Adam Oumiddoch stood on the right wing, knees bent and arms spread, crouched in a defensive stance.

The sophomore-to-be was guarding Malachi Palmer, a lightning quick, rugged and powerfully built 6-foot-4 shooting guard at Mt. Zion Prep in Lanham, Maryland.

Palmer, a rising senior, has scholarship offers from the likes of Pitt, Oklahoma State, Creighton, LSU, Illinois, Houston and Arizona State, among many others.

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Oumiddoch is not nearly as stocky, but keeps his defense tight, leaving Palmer little room to operate.

But then Palmer sees a crease of daylight on the baseline and explodes toward the basket with lightning quickness. The help defense of one of Oumiddoch’s teammates arrives too late.

Palmer’s strength, burst of athleticism and vertical violence momentarily freezes everyone in the gym. As he cocks his right hand back, Oumiddoch is right there with him. He gets his right hand on the ball for what seems like an incredible block, but Palmer is too strong, and he slams down a vicious dunk that makes the entire backboard shiver.

Silence momentarily invades the gym before a collective rising chorus of “Ooooooooh!!!” breaks out among the players, coaches and parents. Oumiddoch shakes his head. The smirk on his face screams, “Damn! I thought I had that!”

***

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College coaches everywhere are guessing that, as he fills out and gains experience, Oumiddoch will make plenty of breathtaking defensive stops in the future. His game is already remarkably sophisticated for a player who became dedicated to basketball later than most.

Oumiddoch is a smooth, slender and deceptively skilled 6-foot-5 combo guard/small forward that is the #5 ranked player on the East Coast in the high school class of 2026 according to ESPN.

Before he played his first varsity basketball game for Bishop O’Connell in Northern Virginia last year, he already had college scholarship offers from the likes of Illinois and Memphis.

After an impressive showing this summer playing for Team Melo, Carmelo Anthony’s elite AAU squad during Nike’s national Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) at previous sessions in Atlanta and Dallas, Oumiddoch and his teammates on the Elite squad for 15-year-olds (E15) stepped on the nation’s biggest summer stage Monday — and will play the second of four games this week later today.

The team is vying for Nike’s national championship at Peach Jam, the EYBL’s culminating event in North Augusta, South Carolina, from July 3rd through the 9th. The Nike EYBL circuit is the top recruiting platform for high school boys aspiring to earn NCAA Division I basketball scholarship offers.

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As the nation’s top high school basketball players do battle at the Riverview Park Athletics Center, they’ll be joined by many of the country’s top Division I college coaches and a handful of NBA stars who sponsor teams, including the likes of Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Brad Beal and Paul George.

After an outstanding freshman season, which included winning MVP honors at the prestigious Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts, with a 21-point performance off the bench in O’Connell’s nail biting 67-64 overtime loss to a tough squad from New Orleans’ Isidore Newman School, the calls and texts from more college coaches came with increased frequency.

As a freshman, Oumiddoch earned Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) honorable mention honors in a prep league that is considered by many to be the best and most competitive in the country. He did so despite the fact that from March 22nd to April 21st, as an observant Muslim, he fasted, going without food or drink from sunup to sundown in observance of Ramadan.

Oregon, Iowa, Georgetown and Villanova have now jumped in the recruiting mix and are showing serious interest. He now has scholarship offers from Providence and Washington, too. University of Maryland head coach Kevin Willard recently extended an offer as well.

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And after his work on the EYBL circuit this summer, along with strong showings at the Nike Top 100 camp in St. Louis and during tryouts for Team USA’s under-16 national team in Colorado Springs, UConn’s Danny Hurley, the young head coach who led the Huskies to the national championship last season, has stayed in contact with the Oumiddoch family.

Hurley and his staff were often seen at the Nike events this summer watching Team Melo, along with the likes of Kansas Hall of Fame coach Bill Self.

Adam Oumiddoch attacks the paint at the Team USA U16 National Team trials at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs
Adam Oumiddoch attacks the paint at the Team USA U16 National Team trials at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. (Team USA Basketball)

The 15-year-old phenom with the baby face whose family hails from Morocco is living out his dream. But this is a new dream, because the one that came before it was entirely different.

***

Five years ago, Adam Oumiddoch’s athletic future seemed as if it might play out in an Olympic swimming pool.

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By the age of 5, he was the youngest member of an elite travel swim team in Northern Virginia, regularly traveling up and down the East Coast and competing against and beating boys twice his age in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.

But his trajectory as a potential future Olympic swimmer took a turn after he first touched a basketball at age 9. He watched in awe one day as his older cousins played a pickup game in a local park.

From that day forward, the round orange sphere became more than a constant companion — it became an appendage.

Adam Oummidoch attacks the rim at Leadership Through Athletics in Halethorpe, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

“It got to the point where I just got tired of swimming,” said Oumiddoch. “The sport didn’t excite me anymore and I felt like it wasn’t for me. Once I first picked up a ball and started shooting, I was hooked.”

During evenings, Oumiddoch and his father, Mahdi Oumiddoch, developed a new routine, with father and son getting hundreds of jumpers up at the local neighborhood park.

His mother, Nancy Oumiddoch, a former volleyball player, track and tennis star in high school, was devastated.

“Adam was such a talented young swimmer and his future in the sport looked very bright,” said Nancy. “We were fully invested in the swimming community for years, so hearing that he didn’t want to do it anymore hurt initially.”

It didn’t take long before those Olympic dreams returned, but this time with him sporting shorts and sneakers on the hardwood.

Mahdi wasn’t as upset as his wife about Adam leaving the swimming pool behind. Growing up in Casablanca, he was once a promising soccer player whose career was sabotaged by a severe knee injury.

But another sport attracted him.

“We had a television channel on Saturday mornings that would give us the highlights of the NBA games every week,” said Mahdi. “The Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic, with Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, were my favorite teams back then. When I was a teenager, we were on vacation in Paris one summer and I saved up all my allowance money and spent $75 on a Michael Jordan jersey.”

Once Adam caught the hoops bug, it consumed him. His parents would drop him off at a local fitness club when he was in the sixth grade and it wasn’t long before the slight, angular kid with the unruly brown hair, long bony arms and sharp elbows started holding his own in pickup games against adults.

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“At first, he was just playing for fun, and then people started coming up to me to say, ‘Man, your son is really good, he’s special,’ and it wasn’t long before some of them approached us about training him,” said Mahdi. “We found a local AAU team that he started playing with, but after a while, Adam approached us and said, ‘I don’t want to play AAU ball right now, I just want to train.’”

His competitive embers began to burn, and although he enjoyed playing in the games, he didn’t feel like it was helping him improve.

“I started playing in some of the local AAU stuff and it was fun, but my game began to evolve when I put that on pause to concentrate strictly on skill development,” said Oumiddoch. “Some of the AAU games I played in were good, but most felt like a waste of time.”

Mahdi did his due diligence in researching local trainers, looking for the right person who could help his son improve. He found him in Dominic Phillips, a former overseas pro who had a brief stint in the G-League before founding the DNA Skills Academy.

The pandemic gave Oumiddoch the flexibility to train with Phillips three times a day, since his seventh and eighth grade schooling took place remotely.

“When I met Adam three years ago as a seventh grader, he walked into the gym at about 5-foot-9 and maybe 120 pounds,” said Phillips. “I hadn’t heard about him because he hadn’t established a local reputation yet. He could stroke the ball but the thing that really impressed me about him was his hunger, how bad he wanted to become a great player. I could see that even at that young age with his raw skill set, he had a chance to tap into the elite levels of the game as he grew because of his work ethic and mentality.”

The two immediately went to work in Phillips’ basketball laboratory, with intensive training sessions in the mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Dominic Phillips, Adam Oumiddoch’s trainer and mentor, coaches the Team Melo squad at Leadership Through Athletics in Halethorpe, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

In addition to the dribbling, passing, rebounding and conditioning drills, they studied and broke down film together, with Phillips calling his burgeoning protégé every night after the day’s workouts were complete.

“We’d discuss his progress, how he was feeling about what we were doing,” Phillips said. “I wanted to get a gauge of his understanding of the process and to see if he had any questions about the work we were doing and the roadmap of where he was heading. As his game developed, so did his confidence.”

With Oumiddoch playing in some local tournaments to incorporate what he was learning into live game action, word soon began to spread in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

“Adam came on my radar in the spring of his seventh grade year,” said Joe Wooten, his current coach at Bishop O’Connell. Wooten is the son of the legendary Hall of Fame DeMatha coach Morgan Wooten. “He could really shoot the ball and he was a gym rat. You could tell that he wanted to win and was truly passionate about the game.”

Last spring, while still in the eighth grade, Mahdi and Nancy were approached by Sam Brand, the director of the elite Team Melo AAU program. Brand asked about the possibility of Adam joining the program. The request was not one to be taken lightly.

No matter how good a young player may be, they can’t simply try out for Team Melo. They have to be scouted and evaluated in advance. It’s almost a clandestine operation. Only a select few of the area’s most exceptional young talents, after an arduous vetting process, are granted that invitation. In youth basketball circles, it’s akin to a kid getting one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.

Although Nancy and Mahdi were initially skeptical, they decided that allowing their son to test himself against the best players across the country was the next logical step for him.

And despite his lack of experience playing on the national level, Oumiddoch immediately proved to be up to the challenge and flourished on Nike’s EYBL circuit, outplaying older kids who’d already established national reputations.

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After his showing during the summer of 2022, his first scholarship offers from Old Dominion and Bryant University came trickling in. The Moroccan kid was no longer the area’s best kept secret.

“Playing EYBL last year, the level of competition was crazy,” said Oumiddoch. “I was watching these incredible players from all over the country, and I’d be telling myself, ‘I want to be better than that guy!’”

Mahdi and Nancy saw that Adam was entering an entirely different crucible of amateur basketball. The commitment would require sacrifices — ones that they were willing to make because of their son’s intense devotion toward the game.

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Mahdi walked away from his job as a national sales director in the retail industry, a gig that required extensive travel in the Unites States and abroad, to serve, for all intents and purposes, as his son’s personal assistant.

Nancy maintains her job in retail, which also requires being on the road for long stretches of time.

“My main job right now is to be available for whatever Adam needs,” Mahdi said.

It’s not the first time the family had this sort of arrangement.

Adam was born with choanal atresia, defined by the National Institutes of Health as “a congenital disorder in which the nasal choanae, (i.e., paired openings that connect the nasal cavity with the nasopharynx) are occluded by soft tissue (membranous), bone, or a combination of both, due to failed recanalization of the nasal fossae during fetal development.”

In layman’s terms, both of his nostrils were closed — which can lead to death if not treated. Adam lived in a tiny incubator machine in the intensive care unit for three months and endured numerous surgeries in which two holes were drilled inside his nose, with tubes inserted in his nasal cavity to allow him to breathe.

There were excruciating visits to the doctor where Mahdi had to physically hold Adam tight, pressed to his chest while the new holes in his nostrils were being re-drilled and stretched.

Nancy took off from work for six months. Mahdi quit his job and was at his son’s side every day and night for 18 months, until the prognosis for his recovery and chance at a normal childhood looked promising. In order to help with his ability to develop strong lungs and better breathing, the doctors suggested swimming lessons.

Hence his foray into the pool at the age of five.

***

Oumiddoch practically lives in the gym.

Adam Oumiddoch pulls up for a shot at Leadership Through Athletics in Halethorpe, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

On days Team Melo is not practicing, his work with Phillips begins at 6:30am. He starts the day with conditioning drills for an hour. After that, he transitions to skill development and building on the already considerable weapons in his arsenal for the next hour.

Once the drills are done, he’ll get hundreds of shots up over the next sixty minutes.

Mahdi will drive him home for lunch and a brief rest, and then it’s off to the weight room for an hour to build up his body and develop strength. The duo will head back home for a light meal, some ice application, stretching and rest. By 6 p.m., they’re back in the gym with Phillips for more workouts, drills and shooting for two or three hours.

Between rides back and forth to training, conditioning and weightlifting sessions, and later at home in the evening after a nutritious meal, Oumiddoch’s eyes are glued to a tablet, studying and breaking down the moves and skill sets of players like Michael Jordan, Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

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***

On Tuesday evening, June 27th, as a thunderous downpour wreaked havoc outside, the Team Melo E15 and E17 squads were at the Leadership Through Athletics facility in Halethorpe for a fierce workout. As one of Oumiddoch’s favorite current songs, “Back at it” by Gunna, blared in the background, the players were going at it, their hunger evident.

“This is it,” exhorted Phillips, who also serves as the Team Melo E15 head coach. “We only have four more practices until Peach Jam. Let’s go!”

As the gangly big men and stocky guards run through their half-court offensive sets, Phillips called out plays that he expects to be run to perfection.

“L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! Let’s go! Chicago! Chicago! Chicago! Let’s go!”

The slightest mistake seems to irritate his very soul, and even his star pupil is not immune to his verbal wrath when things go haywire.

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“Adam! C’mon, man! What are you thinking?” Phillips yelled after a silly and avoidable turnover.

During the practice, Adam has his full arsenal on display. The touch on his deep ball is superb, the range is exceptional. But shooting and scoring is just a piece of the puzzle.

His length, mentality, competitiveness and deceptive strength serve him well on defense. In one sequence where’s he’s defending a quick, diminutive point guard with an exceptional handle at half-court, Adam practically swallows him up with his pterodactyl-like wingspan, frenetic hands and subtle physicality.

He derives just as much joy from a pretty assist as he does a long-range three. An engaged, unselfish teammate, he can also handle the ball well. According to Phillips, the next frontier for Oumiddoch is developing him into a player with elite point guard skills.

Mahdi Oumiddoch watches his son Adam practice at Leadership Through Athletics in Halethorpe, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Mahdi moves quietly around the gym, stopping to speak with everyone. He has a way of making you feel important. He shakes hands with every coach and parent, continuously offering words of encouragement to each player, all of whom call him “Pop.”

It’s obvious that the father and son are enjoying this basketball thing together. And they realize that there’s plenty more work to be done.

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“The sky’s the limit for Adam,” said Wooten, his coach at Bishop O’Connell. “As great of a shooter and scorer that he is right now, he’s going to be an equally great defender and rebounder down the road. He’s a point guard in a wing’s body. And like all good players, he has to continue to develop a better feel for the game, because as you go up to the higher levels, people are going to be just as good and athletic, if not more so. So your IQ has to continue to increase and that’s what separates the good players from the great ones.”

“Now that he’s getting older and the accolades are starting to come, Adam is not satisfied,” said Phillips. “He’s hungry. He wants more and more every day, he wants to get better and better.”

Despite a strong showing at the Olympic Training Center as one of the youngest players in Colorado Springs at the U16 national team tryouts, he did not make the 12-man squad. That team USA squad won a gold medal at the 2023 FIBA Men’s U16 Americas Championship in Merida, Mexico, in early June, stacked with the likes of the Boozer twins — Cameron (regarded by many as the best prep player in the country) and Cayden — as well as A.J. Dybantsa and Isiah Harwell, all of whom are seen as future college stars and NBA players.

But the fact that Oumiddoch was among the 18 players invited bodes well for his future.

“Adam didn’t make the final Team USA roster, but we’re proud of him for being one of the youngest guys out there and competing the way he did, especially against the level of elite talent that he was playing against,” said Phillips. “He went on from there to have a great showing at the Nike Top 100 camp in St. Louis, where he was again among the youngest players there.”

That youth creeps through when there’s downtime on the court and Oumiddoch jokes with teammates. On breaks, you might find him bumping Gunna on his headphones or playing video games. He’s a fan of Spider-Man movies and enjoys going back to thumb through his favorite book series, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” But for the most part, it’s all about basketball. It’s almost as if he needs it in the same way that he once needed those machines and tubes to breathe as a kid.

Adam Oumiddoch poses for a portrait at Leadership Through Athletics in Halethorpe, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Team Melo lost its opening game at Peach Jam Monday to Russell Wesbrook’s Team WhyNot from Southern California, 57-51. Oumiddoch had an impressive showing, with 22 points, nine rebounds, a block and two steals. Team Melo is aiming to bounce back in its next game on the Fourth of July at noon against Team CP3, Chris Paul’s E15 EYBL team.

“I want to continue to get better as an overall player, get stronger and faster,” Oumiddoch said. “I feel like there’s no limit to how good I can eventually become because of the work that we’re constantly putting in. I’m a competitor that wants to win games. And when I see coaches like UConn’s Danny Hurley at my games, watching me, I don’t get gassed up and feel the need to impress. I just want to be solid, a good teammate that plays the right way and makes the right basketball play. I feel like if I just stay within the flow of the game, everything else will fall into place.”

alejandro.danois@thebaltimorebanner.com

Alejandro Danois is a sports reporter specializing in long-form storytelling, looking at society through the prism of sports and its larger connections with the greater cultural milieu. The author of The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, he is also a film producer and cultural critic. 

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