Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
7-Footer Emmanuel Umoffia Moving Forward After Brief Stint at Paterson Eastside
UNION, N.J. — Like many tall, young Africans, Emmanuel Umoffia came to the United States to pursue a better life through basketball.
He left his parents in Benin City, Nigeria in January 2015 and came to the U.S. on a student visa with hopes of landing a college scholarship to pursue an education and a career in basketball.
“My parents definitely care about education,” the 7-foot-2 junior told me Saturday at the Metro Classic at Kean University where he was watching games as a fan. “They don’t care about basketball, and basketball because of my height I think I can make a living for myself through that.”
Umoffia already holds scholarship offers from Providence, St. Bonaventure, Iona and Ole Miss, and hopes to add more once he hits the Nike EYBL circuit this summer.
“He has a chance to be very good,” one college coach said.
Right now, Umoffia is living in Buffalo with his mentor Alex Nwora, the Nigerian-born head coach at Erie Community College and the father of Louisville signee Jordan Nwora, a talented 6-8 small forward who played on the Nike circuit with the NY Rens.
“He is a skilled 7-2 big who can score around the basket,” Alex Nwora said of Umoffia. “He blocks shots, runs very well and has good hands. He will have a chance to make an immediate impact on the next level.”
Nwora said Umoffia has “bounced around” to several American high schools “because of injury and stuff that was out of his control.” His stops have included Putnam Science Academy (CT), St. John’s Northwest Military Academy (WI) and, most recently, Paterson (N.J.) Eastside.
NJ Advance Media broke an explosive story last week which revealed that six Eastside players — three Nigerians and three Puerto Ricans — were living with Coach Juan Griles in his Paterson condo. Griles and assistant Al Maldonado have since been suspended, and the New Jersey State Athletic Association has withheld its North 1, Group 4 state tournament bracket as it looks into the Eastside case. New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency is also investigating the Eastside situation.
Umoffia says he was only at Eastside for about two weeks and that he withdrew from the school on Feb. 3. He said he knows the Nigerians who lived with Griles but that he never lived with the coach and only met him a couple of times. Nwora said Umoffia was only visiting the other Nigerian players and is “not involved” in the situation at Eastside.
“I wasn’t there for anything concerning sports,” Umoffia said of Eastside. “I went to watch some of their games because I’m a basketball player so I go watch their games but I never played basketball with them or practiced with them.
“I was trying to take classes because I wasn’t sure about how long it would take to get back to St. John’s so I was only going there for classes and it was nothing concerning basketball. I only met the coach about twice or something like that.”
After spending last season at Putnam Science, the same school that produced current Kentucky freshman guard Hamidou Diallo, Umoffia said he was at St. John’s Northwest Military Academy from September-January of this school year.
Umoffia said he left St. John’s because he was having issues with his I-20 — a document a student must have to apply for a student visa — but hopes to return to that school.
St. John’s Northwest Military Academy coach Krayton Nash did not respond to text messages seeking comment.
After leaving St. John’s, Umoffia began attending Eastside for “about two weeks,” he said.
“I stopped going there, I think it was last Friday [Feb 3], a week ago,” Umoffia said. “My lawyer said I can’t be in a government school because they can’t give me an I-20 to help me. There was no need for me being there because they can’t help me with my I-20 so on Friday coach Alex withdrew me and said I shouldn’t bother going there. I should start getting ready to go back to St. John’s.
“I never worked out in the [Eastside] gym because I never had my physical. I never did any physical to go to the school.”
Asked if he knew the other Nigerian kids who stayed with Griles at Eastside, Umoffia said, “Yeah, I met other Nigerian kids that were there. I don’t really want to talk about them that much. The little I can talk about them is they didn’t play for the team. One of them just came back from surgery so he wasn’t really playing. None of them were on the team.”
Now Umoffia is looking forward to continuing to recover from a procedure on his right kneecap and getting back in shape. He wants to find a new high school and play AAU ball this summer, possibly with Expressions Elite on the Nike EYBL circuit.
“I’m already healthy,” he said. “I’ve started playing already. I’m in shape. My main goal is to come back in the summer and start playing.”
Asked to describe his game, he said: “I can shoot a little bit of mid-range jump shots and post up and rebounding, that’s what I do. I want to work on my shot-blocking more. That’s what I really need to work on. I don’t score that much but I don’t think it’s as important compared to my shot-blocking. Being calm and taking what the defense gives you.”
He said he’s not overly worried about his recruitment and believes he will add more offers once he plays this summer.
“I definitely think I’m going to get more interest,” he said. “I don’t really talk to colleges, I leave that to coach Alex. If I play, they’re going to come anyway.”
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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 and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.