Thanks to my boss, Dan Fogelman, there is a brand new addition to the Golden State Warriors’ roster.
Well… kind of.
Dan recently cast the previously unknown actor, Blondy Baruti, as one of the lead characters in the untitled "NBA" comedy pilot for ABC that wrapped filming this week in Oakland.
Now if you’re curious why this is "Thunder" newsworthy, well maybe it’s not exactly. But you and Blondy do share the same favorite basketball team.
A photo posted by BlondyBaruti (@blondybaruti) on
And that’s because he grew up in Africa and is lifelong pals with Serge Ibaka. In fact, Blondy and Serge think of each other as brothers.
I was thinking about everything in my life and If it wasn't for God and this guy and his hard work I wouldn't be here today. He always been there for me, always looked after me, Always wanted the best for me. We argue and get into it a lot but we always find a way to stick together. No matter what he never gave up on me. Love you big homie @mr_avecclasse
A photo posted by BlondyBaruti (@blondybaruti) on
Pretty rad, huh?
Okay, so who is this Blondy fellow? Blondy was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and he moved to America on September 4th, 2008. He played high school basketball for the Mesa Jackrabbits in Arizona and he averaged 10.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.1 blocked shots per game during his senior season. He also earned honorable mention All-State and All-Region honors. Blondy was then offered a scholarship from the University of Tulsa, but he only appeared in 13 games while averaging 6.7 minutes of playing time as a true freshman in 2010-11. The next year he red-shirted, and before the start of the 2012-13 season he was declared medically unable to continue playing due to a foot injury. But Blondy – a young man who has endured way too many hardships growing up in a war-torn region in Central Africa – would not let this deter him. In 2014 he graduated with two degrees from the University of Tulsa in Business Management and Theater.
So… born in Africa, high school in AZ, and college in OK. How the hell did Blondy get cast in Dan Fogelman’s new sitcom? That’s a great question, but let’s back up a bit. First of all, the TV show is a buddy/workplace comedy set in the NBA about Golden State’s new first round draft pick Moseki "Mo" Gosego (Blondy). The team’s GM – played by none other than Marsellus Wallace himself, Ving Rhames – has just mortgaged the future of the Warriors’ franchise on the untested African center.
But carrying the fate of a professional basketball team on his broad shoulders is only one of the obstacles that Mo faces. For starters, he doesn't speak a lick of English. Therefore, the Warriors hire a translator to not only teach Mo how to communicate, but to also spend every waking moment with him. The translator, Jason, is played by "Pitch Perfect’s" Skylar Astin. Needless to say: Mo and Jason form a hilariously touching and genuine friendship, which is the heart of the show.
The concept for the TV show started as an idea developed by Dan’s production company: Rhode Island Ave. Productions (where I work). Dan then commissioned his old friends David Windsor and Casey Johnson to write the half-hour script. David and Casey had most recently served as writers on Dan’s fairy tale-themed musical comedy "Galavant." Next, Dan called up another old buddy: Aaron Kaplan of Kapital Entertainment. Aaron was an Executive Producer on Dan’s sitcom "The Neighbors" and he connected Dan and the gang with Michael Tollin of Mandalay Sports Media. Tollin runs Mandalay with a gentleman named Peter Guber, who also happens to be the minority owner of the Golden State Warriors. Hence, Mo donning Warrior blue and yellow in our show. With the producer brain trust in place and with David and Casey off writing the script, the next piece of business was finding a 7-footer who could land a joke. Easy enough, right?
Dan hired his longtime Casting Director Susan Vash to take on this daunting task. Susan and her associate Melissa Ventura immediately started sending out casting breakdowns all across the world. Literally. From Kenya to China to even good ol’ Oklahoma. The breakdown caught the attention of the Norman, Oklahoma based Switzer Talent Agency. Wait. Norman? Switzer? If your Oklahoma sports spidey senses are suddenly tingling that’s because the agency is owned by Becky Switzer, wife of OU football legend Barry Switzer.
Back to Blondy: he moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Tulsa, but he still spends a lot of time in Oklahoma. Ironically, Blondy was in OK when Hollywood (via his agent at Switzer Talent) came calling. Blondy booked the next available flight back to La-La Land.
From the moment Blondy walked into Susan Vash’s office on the Disney Lot in Burbank, she knew she had found a special young talent. And Susan knows talent: she’s been casting actors for over twenty years and has worked on shows like "Mad About You" and "Spin City." Susan had Blondy read a few excerpts from David and Casey’s script and she instantly booked him to come back the next day to read for the show’s producers. Blondy entered the casting session with a huge smile on his face, the top of his head narrowly missing the door frame by only a few inches. If he was nervous, he didn’t show it. Instead he brimmed with excitement and confidence as he shook everyone’s hand and introduced himself. Susan was about to start the session, but Blondy asked if he could say something first. He thanked everyone for the opportunity and then proceeded to tell them a heartbreaking story about having to trudge 600 miles through the jungle as an 11 year old to escape the war. Blondy said he was so thin you could count his ribs. One time, he even had to drink river water that had a dead body floating in it just 40 feet away. Throughout these trying times, Blondy said his mother kept reminding him of three words: faith, hope, believe. But now came the moment of truth. The only thing left for Blondy to do was to captivate the producers with his fledgling acting chops so they’d hire him to be one of the stars of their TV show. Again, easy enough, right?
Well, for Blondy it apparently was. Forgive the bad pun, but let’s just say that he slam-dunked his audition.
Blondy Baruti’s story is one of triumphing in the face of impossible odds. His latest hurdle was filming his first TV show. But if Blondy can survive civil war in Africa, I have a feeling he'll survive Hollywood too. We deliver our final cut of the pilot to ABC at the end of the month, and if the next few weeks go as well as myself, my boss Dan, and our coworkers hope, Blondy will be coming to the high-definition flat screen in your living room this fall.
Who knows - maybe Blondy and his buddy Serge might team up in the future too!