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.
Seton Hall’s Nzei talks athlete discrimination at prestigious Learfield Forum
By ADAM ZAGORIANEW YORK — Standing 6-foot-8 and weighing more than 200 pounds, Mike Nzei is easy to peg as a basketball player on the Seton Hall campus.
Nzei, who was born in Nigeria, is averaging 11.3 points for the basketball team and leads the Big East in field goal percentage. But when he walks around campus, his fellow students don’t all know about his academic résumé.
A recent graduate of Seton Hall currently pursuing his MBA, Nzei is a national Senior Class Award finalist, member of the NABC Honor Court and a four-time Academic All-Big East selection.
“When they see your test scores and they see you get a good grade, they’ll be like, ‘Who wrote your paper for you?'” Nzei told me Wednesday at the Learfield Athletics Forum in Manhattan, where he was one of six featured student-athletes on the panel, “The Student-Athlete Experience.”
Nzei’s gut response to people when he hears those kinds of things: “Do I look dumb?”
“But I realize when people get used to you, you have to overcome it,” he explained. “So I did that by participating in class, answering questions, involving myelf in all the student activiites. I just want people around to start looking at student-athletes as student-athletes. We’re students, too. I have a brain, so don’t think I’m not capable of writing a paper or getting a good grade on my finals.”
Nzei worked as an intern last summer at Cantor Fitzgerald and said he wants to keep his options open in both basketball and business.
“Like I always say, I make the best out of all the opportunities I get,” he said. “I’m giving 100 percent to basketball and 100 percent to academics. I’m passionate about whatever I do, so whatever I find myself doing will be the best for me.”
Pirates coach Kevin Willard, who on Tuesday won his 200th career game against New Hampshire, says Nzei is a “great role model” for others at Seton Hall.
“I think he kind of shows what’s possible,” Willard said. “If you put the student into it, you can really do a lot of great things by playing basketball.”
Willard said Nzei can both play pro basketball down the road and pursue a career in business.
“I think it’s both,” he said. “I think his passion is basketball but he knows multiple languages, he’s smart as can be. He eventually is soing to be a very, very good businessman.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, 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.