After Coping With a Double-Tragedy, Kerwin Okoro Is Finally Ready to Suit Up at Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Eno Okoro works 16 hours a day, five days a week, in two separate jobs as a nurse’s aid in The Bronx in order to pay her mortgage and other bills.
During the past two years, she has had to endure more tragedy than many people do in a lifetime.
Last November, her husband, Stanislaus, died of a stroke in his native Nigeria.
Two months later, her middle son, 28-year-old Idiongo, passed away from colon cancer.
“It’s been very tough for the past two years,” Eno told SNY.tv by phone on Thursday.
Complicating matters for Eno was the fact that her youngest son, Kerwin Okoro, was playing basketball at Iowa State University, far away from the family during these troubled times.
“She couldn’t make one game last year,” the 6-foot-5 Okoro told SNY.tv. “Most of the times she watched me play it was on TV.”
Okoro’s parents came to the U.S. 33 years ago from Nigeria and began to raise a family.
“[Stanislaus] got married to me and brought me here,” Eno said. “We started a family and raised the kids. And then he got sick and he couldn’t be able to stay here.”
Stanislaus began going back and forth to Nigeria when Kerwin was a young boy because, Eno said, life was better for him there.
“He was much better with the weather and other things, he couldn’t take it anymore [in the U.S.],” Eno said.
With him gone, Idiongo became a father figure to Kerwin. Kerwin also has another brother, Freddy, 31, who moved in with his mother after Idiongo became ill.
But after Kerwin chose Iowa State over Seton Hall and Pittsburgh out of St. Raymond’s in The Bronx in the spring of 2011, Idiongo became sick with colon cancer. He would be in and out of the hospital for two years.
“He never hung his head about it, so I didn’t,” Okoro told FoxNews in February. “He was being a role model at the same time, showing his strength in the process.”
Kerwin returned home to be with his family as much as he could during his time at Iowa State, but it wasn’t easy.
“During that time my son was sick, I’ve been working taking care of [Idiongo] and Kerwin was always there to support,” Eno said. “He would travel and visit his brother.”
Meantime, Kerwin’s father was ill in Nigeria and things turned from bad to worse by the time Eno finally visited him there last fall.
“He got a stroke and by the time I got there he was already messed up and paralyzed in the brain,” Eno said.
“He pased away in November. I came back [from Nigeria] dealing with [Kerwin’s] brother’s sickness.”
Shortly thereafter, on Jan. 30, Idiongo passed away.
“To lose a child at that age is not easy,” Eno said.
Kerwin decided to transfer following his freshman season, and ultimately chose in May to return closer to home to play at Rutgers.
But as has been well-documented, the NCAA wouldn’t initially grant Okoro a hardship waiver to play immediately.
The decision was harshly criticized by basketball fans and was curious, especially since the NCAA ended up granting waivers to all the players who left Rutgers following the Mike Rice scandal.
“It was frustrating but I just remained humbled and I just remained focused,” Kerwin said. “Sticking to getting better with Coach [Eddie] Jordan, so I tried not to pay that much mind to it.”
Finally, last month, the NCAA came to its senses and granted Okoro a waiver to play immediately.
“I was exhilarated,” Kerwin said. “It was a real good feeling. I definitely didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to play this year, our last year in this [American Athletic] Conference and with this group of guys.”
For Eno, it means a chance to see her youngest son, who will be used as a defensive stopper on the wing, play closer to home.
Mostly, she says, her son wants to help his mother now and in the future.
“Mommy,” Eno said Kerwin tells her, “I will try my best to be good and see that one day you are not working as hard as you are.
“He’s been a very loving child.”
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.