By Josh Veltrie
For Dera Nd-Ezuma, basketball is more than just a sport; it is a way to help him succeed in life.
Nd-Ezuma is a freshman on the men’s basketball team, but he has only been playing basketball since his junior year in high school.
The 6’10” center came to the United States from Nigeria on Oct. 2, 2007, and he began playing basketball just a month before he made the trip to New Jersey to begin his education and playing career at Life Center Academy.
“Basketball is the only opportunity I had to come to the States and get a college education,” Nd-Ezuma said.
Helping him adjust to college life in the U.S. is junior guard Justin Robinson, who is from London.
“He is getting the job done on the court and in school,” Nd-Ezuma said. “He inspires me because if he can do it, I can do it.”
Nd-Ezuma, an economics major at Rider, competed on the junior varsity team in high school since he was so new to the game. But he worked hard to get a starting spot his senior year on the varsity squad.
“We’ve gotten pretty close since the season began,” Robinson said. “It’s nice having someone to relate to, we can talk to each other about being homesick and stuff like that.”
Robinson, on the other hand, came over to the U.S. his sophomore year of high school and played on the varsity team all three years at Blair Academy. He averaged 12 ppg his senior year while dishing out six assists per game. He shared the court with four other players who went on to play at Division I programs.
When Head Coach Tommy Dempsey was recruiting Nd-Ezuma and Robinson, he said that their nationality had nothing to do with it, but the mixture of cultures ended up helping the team chemistry.
“We have a very diverse locker room; we have kids from different countries, from cities, and from rural areas,” Dempsey said. “I think it is a good thing because everyone is exposed to different ways of life, and it makes them appreciate each other.”
Robinson, a communication major with a minor in sports and business, competed with Great Britain’s men’s basketball team this past summer, which Dempsey believes was a great experience for him.
“It really helped his confidence,” Dempsey said. “He played against some of the better guards in the world, and he’s had a very good start to the season, thanks to the work he did over the summer.”
With four games of 15 or more points so far this season, Robinson has shown signs of being an explosive scorer that can take over a game offensively. He is also shooting 51 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Nd-Ezuma has not seen much of the court during the first 10 gamees of the season for the Broncs. But that is to be expected since it is only his third year in the world of basketball.
“He plays very hard,” Dempsey said. “He’s still learning the game, and it’s hard to get him a lot of playing time because he is so new to the game.”
Nd-Ezuma has shown the potential to dominate a game; he had 10 dunks in one game during his senior year of high school. But even he admits it is a painfully long process to learn the game of basketball in such a short period of time.
“The game is much faster here compared to back in Nigeria,” Nd-Ezuma said. “I think there is more to the game mentally than I originally thought because there [are] so many things going on at once.”
Although Nd-Ezuma originally came here for the education, his goals have changed somewhat now that he is learning the game of basketball.
“I am trying to see how far basketball can take me,” Nd-Ezuma said. “I hope to play the game as long as I can.”
With a similar build to Rider graduate Jason Thompson, who is currently playing for the Sacramento Kings, Nd-Ezuma might not get drafted when his career is over at Rider. But there is always the chance he could catch everyone by surprise like Thompson did.
As for Robinson’s future, he hopes to compete in the 2012 Olympics on Great Britain’s basketball team.
“This past summer, competing throughout Europe was like a warm-up for the Olympics,” Robinson said. “I think I have a pretty good chance of making the team in 2012.”
By Josh Veltrie