Talib Zanna is pictured with his American family. At bottom right is  is Brendan Bazilio, also a member of Bishop McNamara High School's Class of 2009. In the back row are Ralph and Dorothea Bazilio.
Talib Zanna is pictured with his American family. At bottom right is is Brendan Bazilio, also a member of Bishop McNamara High School's Class of 2009. In the back row are Ralph and Dorothea Bazilio.
At the age of 15, Talib Zanna could never have dreamed that he would be leaving his home of Kaduna in Nigeria to travel half-way across the world to continue his high school education in the United States.

Zanna's mother, a small business owner in Nigeria, and his father, a politician and public works employee, have always been committed to their children's education and to providing opportunities for them to capitalize on their unique gifts. It became evident to the Zanna family that in addition to their son being a strong student - he is fluent in four different languages - he also possessed God-given talent in athletics.

As a result of Zanna's athletic successes in Nigeria, he was invited to attend a diplomacy basketball academy hosted by the Denver Nuggets of the NBA.

It was at that camp that Zanna met Bishop McNamara basketball coach and math teacher, Marty Keithline. Keithline had been invited as one of 10 American coaches to attend the "Basketball Without Borders" camp that year which provides American coaches the opportunity to travel internationally, experience another culture, and coach and train international student-athletes in a camp setting.

After returning from Nigeria, Keithline's perspective on life changed dramatically. "I've never imagined such poverty and civil unrest as I witnessed during my time in Nigeria," he said, "and yet, I found the young people there to be very positive, goal oriented and ambitious."

Keithline added that "it was an honor to be given the opportunity to work with these young people, and especially to form strong bonds with student-athletes like Talib Zanna. I think I learned more from them they learned from me."

Just a few weeks after returning to the United States, Keithline was contacted by Zanna's brother, a doctor in Nigeria, asking for assistance in providing Talib an opportunity to receive an American education and to have the opportunity to play basketball in the United States.

Following a seven month process which included working with the State Department and the Nigerian Embassy, Zanna successfully acquired his visa and was ready to come to this country. In the meantime, Patricia Garber, Bishop McNamara's admissions director, worked with Zanna and his family to complete the necessary paperwork to gain admission to McNamara and to obtain his transcripts from Grace International School in Nigeria.

Bishop McNamara principal Marco Clark said that "we knew the process would be a lengthy one, but our experience in hosting international students in the past has been an extraordinarily positive one not only for the individual student but for our entire school community ... we all benefit from the experience."

In the past, Bishop McNamara has hosted international students from Uganda, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Korea and Lithuania.

"We truly believe in the importance of preparing our students to live in a global society, respecting others' cultures and to providing opportunities to build solidarity around the globe," Clark said.

Just prior to the start of his sophomore year, Zanna ventured from his family in Nigeria to seek his dream of receiving an education and playing basketball in the U.S.

When asked how he felt when he left home, Zanna stated that, "I was excited but scared."

Keithline said that "I don't think I could have ever left my family at that age and gone to a different country. I'm really proud of Talib and admire him for it."

While it was difficult in the beginning for Zanna to adapt to a new language and culture, the student said "my teammates, teachers and my American family helped me a lot."

Zanna's host "American family" is the Ralph and Dorothea Bazilio family of Bowie. Bazilio, a native of Guyana in South America, came to the U.S. as an international student himself many years earlier to seek an American education.

Living with a host family throughout his own high school and college years, Bazilio understood the importance of living with a family that cares enough to treat an international exchange student like one of their own children. Bazilio attributes so much of his success to the love, nurturing and opportunities provided by his host family many years ago. Today, Bazilio is the president and chief operating officer of the accounting firm Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, PC.

While Zanna thought about going back home several times, it was his American family and his Bishop McNamara family that nurtured and provided for his needs, especially at his most vulnerable times.

This past February, duringZanna's senior year at Bishop McNamara, he learned of the tragic news that his father had died suddenly. This loss was a particularly difficult one for Zanna, his coaches, his teammates and his American family.

Unable to travel home for the funeral, the Bazilio familythought it only appropriate that a prayer service be held in Mr. Zanna's honor here in the United States. So on a cold and dark Sunday night in February, Talib Zanna and his American family were joined in their home by the Bishop McNamara men's varsity basketball team, coaches, fellow seniors at Bishop McNamara and members of the administration to pray with and for Talib and his family.

"That was a very hard night for me but it meant the world to me that I could be with and pray with my family here in the U.S.," Zanna said.

His May 23 graduation came after three school years in an American school studying, attending classes, learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and playing basketball.

Zanna's dreams of receiving a college education and playing basketball in the U.S. are about to be realized. After being heavily recruited by the likes of Villanova University, Boston College, the University of Oklahoma and Providence College, Zanna will continue his education at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall on a full athletic scholarship.

"I am so grateful to my McNamara family and my American family," states Zanna, "it is because of them that my dreams are coming true."