Throughout the summer, GoBonnies.com will feature interviews with members of the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team and their preparation for the 2017-18 season during off-season workouts. Our next Summer Session features rising sophomore Josh Ayeni.
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. - Josh Ayeni's first love was soccer.
Growing up in his native Nigeria, he spent his youth playing day after day in the midfield for local teams. As he continued to grow, however, his coaches had a different plan for him - one that had him as a goalie. The problem was, though, that Ayeni had no interest in playing goalie - which ended up ultimately being the gain for St. Bonaventure.
His disinterest in playing as a goalkeeper led him to try basketball - and the connection was instantaneous.
Ayeni was a natural on the basketball court, immediately drawing the attention of coaches who would offer him the opportunity to journey to the United States in pursuit of a dream.
That dream led him to St. Bonaventure after considering multiple Division I offers, and he made an immediate impact in his first season. He started 24 games and played in all 32 last year, averaging 6.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game while flashing potential that has many around the program tremendously excited for his future.
Ayeni is spending both summer sessions on campus with his teammates and coaching staff, working toward taking the next step in 2017-18.
As a kid, soccer was your first sport. How did you transition from the soccer pitch to the basketball court?
When I was younger, I played soccer. I played midfield. My coaches thought I was too tall, so they wanted me to play goalie. I didn't want to do that, so I said I wasn't going to play anymore and decided to play basketball. The first time I picked up a ball a coach saw me and said I could get an opportunity to play in the United States. He took me to a camp and from there I got chosen and got a chance to come to the United States. I was really lucky. The first time I got to the camp, everyone told me that you don't get chosen the first time you go. You have to go two or three times and I got picked the first time. They said I had good potential to play basketball here and made it happen. I knew I wanted to come to the United States, but not to play basketball. I never thought I was going to come here to play basketball.
How often do you get back home and how hard is it to be so far away?
I haven't been back home yet. I talk to my parents on the phone, FaceTime and Skype. They say they watch the streams of the games, but the Internet back home is not great.
After coming to the U.S., you played in the Baltimore area. During that time you played against current teammate Jalen Adams a bit. What was that like?
I remember he was really little, but he got bigger. I remember him getting 27 (points). But I also remember we got more wins than him. I tell him that every time.
How did you end up choosing St. Bonaventure?
The first time I came on campus here it was a different feeling. I felt like I have an opportunity here to play to my potential. Coach Schmidt was willing to give me a chance and I took it.
What was the biggest improvement you made as a freshman?
Guarding the post. That was a big improvement for me.
How would you describe your freshman season?
I think it could've been better. I could've done some things differently. I'm working every day, getting bigger, stronger, faster, shooting better. Everything.
How do you think about your approach on the court differently than when you first got to SBU?
Now I don't take a moment for granted. I just play hard every second that I have on the court.
How important have your teammates been in the transition to playing in the Atlantic 10?
Oh, a lot. A lot. I see them going in the gym and when I see them go, I have to go. That's getting me better. When I do something wrong they let me know, they don't just let me walk away with it, they let me know right there.
Who has been most impressive during off-season workouts so far?
Amadi. He's really pushing himself and that's a motivation to me.
Getting to know ... Josh Ayeni
Favorite athlete: LeBron
Favorite food: Rice and beans
Favorite movie: Friday
Favorite music artist: Jay-Z
Pre-game rituals: I don't believe in that.
If you could play another sport it would be: Soccer. But not at goalie.
Best advice you've ever gotten: Always listen
If you could trade places for a day with anyone it would be: Nobody. I like being me.