Each Friday, GoBonnies.com will have a new feature story about a current student-athlete, coach or member of the Bonnies alumni family. This week's feature first ran as part of a men's basketball game program, and it centers on the journey of freshman Josh Ayeni.
By Cameron Hurst '20, Sports Information Intern
Josh Ayeni's road to St. Bonaventure wasn't in the most conventional manner. But, along the way, the standout freshman forward has certainly made the most out of opportunities afforded to him.
Born in the Nigerian state of Zaria, Ayeni was given the opportunity to come to the United States in 2011 through the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation -- the same foundation that assisted his teammate, Chinonso Obokoh.
"(The Ugboaja Foundation) is where kids from Nigeria who have basketball talents get the opportunity to come to the United States, (receive) an education, and showcase your talents because the United States obviously has the highest basketball league," Ayeni explained.
Students in the program are paired with a host family and are given an opportunity to learn while playing competitive basketball. However, much like Obokoh, Ayeni did not start playing basketball until a relatively late age. Up until that point, he had played soccer in his native Nigeria.
"I started playing basketball the year I turned 15," said Ayeni, noting that the switch of sports came, not because of his skill, but because of his physicality and his 6-8 height. "It was because I was the tallest guy on the team and I didn't want to play goalie, so I figured I would just switch sports."
Though the games differ in many ways, Ayeni has been able to approach the game of basketball with the same thought process and mental preparation that he once used to play soccer.
"It's really the same mindset," he said. "(The game is) going out there and playing defense. Soccer is more defense, though."
After settling in Baltimore, Ayeni played basketball at St. Frances Academy, where he would find great success, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds his senior year, while receiving third-team All-Conference honors in the Baltimore Catholic League.
"We were ranked 13th in the country at one point," said Ayeni "We lost in a playoff game ... but we had a good year."
While at St. Frances, Ayeni would encounter another standout basketball player while facing off against rival high school Mount St. Joseph. His name: Jaylen Adams.
"We were rivals," said Ayeni, jokingly of his high school competition with Adams. "It was a good rivalry. (Mount St. Joseph) had a couple players that went high Division I."
Added Ayeni with a grin: "We got most of the "W's."
During his high school years, Ayeni became recognized through his participation and performance with top AAU team DC Warriors under head coach Anthony Langley. Langley notably assisted and mentored former University of Maryland basketball player and the number two overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Steve Francis. Ayeni refers to Langley, apart from his parents, as his greatest influence.
"For a man to be able to coach somebody like Steve Francis, I feel like he knows what he's doing," said Ayeni. "[Francis] was a really good basketball player and [Langley] helped get me to play at a higher level."
At St. Bonaventure, the freshman has certainly found a solid role within coach Mark Schmidt's game plan.
"I'm fine with what I'm doing right now," said Ayeni. "I'm fine with the role (Schmidt) has me playing in this year, which is great. He's a great coach. He knows what he's doing. He's more like a mental coach, he wants you to be more mentally focused because the game itself is mental. He's very disciplined. I'm very happy playing for him right now."
And, though he may be only a freshman, Ayeni is confident that, because of his choice to play at St. Bonaventure, his game will grow. His former high school rival, Adams, is proof.
"There was just a feeling when I first got here," he said. "And, the fact that I knew (Adams) made the decision easy. If somebody can get better like that, I can too."
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