In Play with Tom Markowski

U-D Jesuit's tall Nigerians getting better and better

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

U-D Jesuit's tall Nigerians getting better and better

(PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Donoher)

 

East Lansing – U-D Jesuit’s two Nigerians are impressive, almost scary, when they step out on the floor. At 6-9, Ike Eke and Greg Eboigbodin are physically intimidating. Eke weighs 218 pounds and with his broad muscular shoulders, he appears much older than 17-years-old. Eboigbodin weighs 215 pounds and is perhaps a more graceful player than his fellow countryman.  

And that’s before the game starts.

When U-D’s Class A semifinal game started against Macomb Dakota it was quite apparent that both can play at a high level. Sure, the consistency isn’t there but their potential is seems to be unlimited.

Surprisingly, U-D had little difficulty defeating Dakota, 72-51. Much of the disparity in the final score can be attributed to U-D’s experience. The Cubs were making their third consecutive semifinal appearance. This was Dakota’s first.

For Eke and Eboigbodin, both born in Nigeria, this was their second semifinal and there was a noticeable difference from the way they played in last season’s semifinal and the way they played on Friday at the Breslin Center.

Eboigbodin had 13 points and a season-high 18 rebounds. Eke had nine points and eight rebounds, his play limited to 14 minutes because of foul trouble.

In last seasons’ semifinal loss to Detroit Western Eboigbodin had three points and eight rebounds. Eke had six points and five rebounds.

“I was really scared (last year),” Eboigbodin said. “This year I got up my confidence.”

Coach Pat Donnelly said, in so many words, that his two post players were the difference. U-D held a 39-24 edge in rebounds and most times Dakota was held to one shot. U-D had 32 defensive rebounds and limited Dakota to eight on the offensive end.

“We did a great job,” Donnelly said. “We limited their second chance (opportunities). Greg and Ike did a phenomenal job on the glass. The biggest thing was confidence. They’d be the first to tell you that they were nervous last year.”

What doesn’t enter the stat sheet is their presence in the middle. Both start and both complement each other. Both are active, contesting shots in the middle and have the agility move away from the basket and contest perimeter shots. Even though each had just one block against Dakota, they changed countless others.

How far these two have come since their freshman year is remarkable.  

Eke and Eboigbodin have played basketball for a relatively short period of time. Both are juniors and are in just their second season playing organized basketball. The Michigan High School Athletic Association ruled both ineligible to play basketball their freshman year. They were allowed to practice but were unable to compete. The MHSAA cited the transfer rule.

Soccer was their main sport in their native country. They never even bounced a basketball until they got to the United States. It was all foreign to them.

“(Soccer) was my favorite,” Eboigbodin said. “I didn’t like (basketball). I saw 5-5, 5-6 guys take the rebound away from me. People told me to play because of my height. But when I started playing it, I don’t play soccer anymore.”

The switch went on last spring when they played AAU. They started playing against players just as big and just as strong as they were.

“I just learned,” Eboigbodin said. “They pushed me around. I just learned.”

Eboigbodin had three thunderous dunks in the fourth quarter and after the third he received a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Seems the officials grew weary of their athletic superiority.

“I was surprised,” Eboigbodin said. “My waist went underneath the basket. I was just holding on, trying not to fall.”

Few can dunk a basketball like these two. And to think just a year ago Eboigbodin had difficulty dunking.

“I didn’t like it last year,” he said. “I couldn’t do it.”

Both have received numerous Division I scholarship offers and more are sure to come. Just wait until they get better.

Now that's scary.