Published: Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:51 p.m.

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BRADENTON – Receiving proper clearance to leave Nigeria for the United States can be difficult, so Odi Onyekachukwu was taking no chances.

Not only did he pray that he would be allowed to come to Bradenton to play basketball, but he fasted from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day for three weeks to spiritually aid the process.

“I wanted a new environment and I wanted to get a good education,” he said.

Onyekachukwu is a 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman center for the State College of Florida Manatees basketball team this season.

When he arrived in Bradenton two days before the start of school he was almost 50 pounds lighter because of the fasting he did.

Onyekachukwu is originally from Enugu, Nigeria. He has only been playing basketball for three years, but already he is receiving inquiries from several Division 1-A schools, according to SCF coach Reggie Bellamy.

“It was some work to get him,” said Bellamy. “We didn’t know if he was going to be cleared and able to get out of the embassy and we had to come up with some resources to get him here.”

Onyekachukwu was a soccer player growing up but eventually became too big to play. There were basketball courts in his town, but they were not common.

His secondary school had a team and he watched the players at first, not thinking he was good enough to play. He studied what they were doing before he got serious about the game.

“I really didn’t know anything,” he said. “We played it for fun. All I knew then was we bounced the ball and threw it in the hole. But all of a sudden it was interesting.”

He improved enough to where a person recommended he travel to Ghana for a tryout with Cape Coast Hoops.

He went, and a video was shot of him playing in a game and was placed on the Internet.

A man named Jack Whitehead came across the video. He runs a recruiting service based in Philadelphia. According the Web site, Whitehead’s service “is composed of players from our West Africa pipeline at Cape Coast Hoops.”

Whitehead sent out e- mails about Onyekachukwu to various colleges in the United States, and Bellamy was intrigued enough to follow up.

Bellamy essentially recruited him off a recommendation and an Internet video.

“We evaluated his second jump, his aggressive rebounding and his ability to score off putbacks,” Bellamy said. “We said, ‘We’ve got two years for a 6-8 guy who’s going to come in hungry.’ ”

It is not uncommon for junior colleges to have at least one international player on their roster.

So far, both sides seem to be benefitting.

“He’s getting an opportunity that two million people in Nigeria wish they had, and that’s to get an American education,” Bellamy said.

“He’s going to help me build my program and here’s why: a lot of Division 1 coaches have inquired about him.”

Onyekachukwu’s name means “Who is greater than God?” in his native language of Igbo.

He speaks near-perfect English and has blended in well with his teammates.

“Odi’s going through some transitions but I think we’re going to get exactly what we need out of Odi,” said Bellamy.


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