29-year-old who dominated high school basketball says he didn’t know how old he was

(WTNH)–He’s the Greg Oden of Canada. Only, if Greg Oden were actually as old as he looked when he was dominating in high school and college.

29-year-old Canadian high school basketball star Jonathan Nicola is in custody now, being held by Canadian immigration officials after being accused of lying about his age to obtain a student visa.

Nicola, who is originally from South Sudan, had been enrolled in the eleventh grade at Catholic Central High School in Windsor, Ontario. The 6-9 forward was a high school star–good enough that his head coach Pete Cusumano, with whom he was living–even boasted to a local newspaper that he had a shot at the NBA.

That’s all out the window now, of course, as Nicola faces deportation. In a detention hearing on Tuesday, Nicola claimed that he didn’t know how old he was because his mother could never remember when he was born.

“I always keep asking what is the specific age that I was born, and she has told me that she could not remember,” Nicola said, according to the Toronto Star.

“I am not a liar person. I am religious. I pray to God. If something bad happen to me here, I do not know what would happen to my mother back home because she is really sick. She has diabetes.”

Nicola said he wanted to come to Canada to get an education and work so that he could support his family, according to the Star.

The Canadian Border Services Agency said Nicola misrepresented “material facts” on his application for a study permit to Canada, submitting an application with a date of birth of Nov. 25, 1998 — which would make him 17. The agency says when Nicola recently applied for a U.S. visitor visa, a fingerprint match determined he was an individual who had made a previous application to the U.S. using a date of birth of Nov. 1, 1986 — making him 29.

The judge at the hearing, Valerie Currie, said she believed Nicola intentionally deceived officials so he could come to Canada with the hopes of supporting his family.

“I understand your desire to do that,” she said. “But the way you have gone about doing that is frankly, quite illegal.”

For their part, Nicola’s teammates are still supporting their friend.

“He got a lot of character, genuine guy,” said 17-year-old Ramkel Wal told the Star. “You know, I feel for him right now. Free Johnny. I hope he gets out safe. I hope they’re taking care of him over there. People are going to have their opinions, but until they know the truth, right now people shouldn’t be saying stuff or bashing anybody.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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