Carolina U's Kester Ofoegbu Is Promising And Then Some
The three-year span ending in 2017 are years that Kester Ofoegbu, a NCCAA student-athlete at Carolina University will never forget.
"Growing up, I had friends who chose to be affiliated with gangs. By ninth grade, two of my friends were shot and killed," he recalls. His cousin, Ibe, also died in his junior year of high school.
Due to burdens over school, basketball, and extracurricular activities, Ofoegbu had lost contact with Ibe much. The two had not spoken at all the year before he passed away.
His last interaction with Ibe was about a year prior to his death. Ive reminded him: "you know this basketball thing is not going to come easy.”
For Ofoegbu, those words stuck with him. ”I promised him that I would use basketball to take me as far as I can in life," Ofoegbu says.
Born in Inglewood, Los Angeles, Ofoegbu was the youngest of four. His parents were divorced at a young age. Ofoegbu and his three siblings all lived with their mom, Anaduaka, a Nigerian immigrant who had been working two jobs. On top of this, she still managed to earn her Ph.D.
Ofoegbu's participated in the boys and girls club that his school offered. "I played every sport they offered," he says. "But, I played well in basketball. That is when I decided to take it more seriously."
However, for Ofoegbu, his mom could not support him financially. "I never got to play for club teams; she could not afford that. So many people already had coaches; I just had to go out on my own," Ofoegbu recalls - and that is exactly what he did.
At first, he didn't even have a basketball. “It got to the point where anything that could bounce I would use,” he says. Ofoegbu spent his days dribbling soccer balls, tennis balls, and, surprisingly, ping pong balls in his backyard.
"We did not even have a hoop. I would just find a way. There were no excuses to say I could not do this," Ofoegbu adds.
Eventually, he would go out to recreational parks and play until the lights shut off. "Once they [other locals at the park] got to know me, they gave me a basketball," he remembers.
He would spend his time mirroring NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant. "I would sit in my living room watching him, and I would copy every one of his moves," Ofoegbu says.
Ofoegbu would go around his neighborhood with his sister Mercedes as his rebounder to get shots up. "We would walk around the neighborhood and shoot around until they told me I couldn't," he says. "Then we would leave and go to a different one."
The siblings would always help each other out, “from doing homework to sneaking downstairs and eating M&M's and trail mix. Kester and I just understood each other; we are so close and have a best friend relationship," Mercedes says.
Before he knew it, Ofoegbu was in eight grade, and got cut his first year trying out for the varsity team.
"I thought I should have made the team,” he says. Next year at the same school, he had a second opportunity with a new tryout.
"This time, I am . . . older and better," Ofoegbu recalls. There were two sets of cuts. Ofoegbu had got by the first one. He was hopeful as if he was almost there; however, he got cut again, to his surprise.
"I was so hurt after that. I just walked home, which is a 25 mile commute by car," he describes.
Following the two years he had been cut, he had to transfer schools due to his mom's work schedule. He ended up at a school right around the corner from his house. Immediately, the basketball coaches there assumed Ofoegbu was good at hoops.
Now in his sophomore year, he finally had a roster spot on a varsity team. However, unfortunately for Ofoegbu, he would not see the court that year.
"Coming into my junior year, I put in a lot of work," he says. The offseason earned him around 4 minutes of playing time through his junior year.
In his final year in high school, most of the good players had graduated. "I was just the one they had to pick to play," Ofoegbu adds.
For Ofoegbu, this was his chance to showcase that he had been trying to get better.
"Thankfully, this was my first good year where I played well. Previously, the coach had favorites,” he says. Now that the favorites had graduated, Ofoegbu had the chance to display everything he had to offer.
“As the season went on, the coaches grew to like me due to my work ethic. I think he gained respect for me," Ofoegbu adds.
After his last year in high school, he went on to compete in JUCO for the Long Beach Community College Vikings.
As he recalls, before arrival, the coaches told him he was going to play.
"Yes, yes, finally! A coach that likes me, I am going to play a lot!" Ofoegbu remembers.
But he found himself on the bench and was one of the last in the rotation.
His second year mirrored his high school story, where most players had graduated, and the coaches were forced to put him in. Fortunately, Ofoegbu's highlight tape caught the attention of his current coach, Willie Williams.
(Photo and cover photo by Shea Miller)
"We saw his highlights and what he could do," Williams adds. "We recruited him. He came in and worked hard, which was my style of play.”
Upon arrival, Coach Williams and Ofoegbu took the time to address what aspects of his game were good and what needed work. Williams had Ofoegbu and the rest of the team working hard during the preseason.
"I actually bonded with my teammates. We felt like family. This is where I made lifelong friends," Ofoegbu adds.
Ofoegbu's junior year in college at Carolina University had been cut short due to COVID. However, this gave Ofoegbu and his coach a taste of what was to come.
"His hard work earned him a captain spot following the 16-game season," Coach Williams says. "I saw in him a point of maturity to take the next steps as a leader."
Ofoegbu had a big task going into his senior year of college hoops. He went from not playing through high school and JUCO to being named captain.
"He surprised us with how much ownership he took. He did so well that he made sure I was on track too," Williams commented.
Ofoegbu, a 6-foot-5 wing, played remarkably for the Bruins his senior year. His impressive numbers and the team's top-ranked scoring defense helped the Bruins finish with a 22-7 record. His performance entitled him to be an National Christian College Athletic Association All-American and South Region player of the year. Williams earned South Region coach of the year.
For the first time, Ofoegbu felt as if he was genuinely valued — as if he found a way. His incredible season landed him the possibility of playing for a professional team in Portugal.
"Nobody ever looks at the end of the bench. I just never took anything for granted," Ofoegbu adds. Continuing on with his journey, Ofoegbu also gave credit to his dad: “even though I don’t talk to my dad as much as I want to, or should, I still love him. Everytime I play basketball, at some point I think about him, and I don’t know if he knows that.”
Finally, Ofoegbu knows everything is starting to come together.
"Everything in life happens for a reason; God has a plan. I believe Ibe is still up there watching me play, and I am making him proud," Ofoegbu adds. "On all my basketball shoes, I write his name to help keep the promise I once made."
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