Obinna turning himself into a national name

Despite playing basketball for just over two years, 6’10 junior Ejike Obinna became a hot commodity on the recruiting trail this July. Obinna’s story begins in his native Nigeria, a country that he left at the age of 13. His host parents in Virginia, Ray and Teresa Matthews, provided insight into Ejike’s background, his personality, and his recruitment.

Ejike Obinna, a 6’10 junior at Virginia Academy (VA), moved to the United States from his native Nigeria, at the age of 13. “Ejike came to us from Nigeria, where he was one of six children,” Ray Matthews told Hawk Hill Hardwood. “He came to us as a 13 year old ready to acclimate. There was very little adjustment; he was very mature for a 13 year old and his English was already very good as a second language. Honestly he was more mature than most 30 year olds, and that’s thanks to where he came from. Initially we committed to a year with him, but within a few days we said he could stay with us as long as he wanted.”

Moving from Nigeria to a high-level college prep school like Virginia Academy came with its own set of challenges. After the initial adjustment period, however, Obinna has thrived in the classroom. “It was a steep learning curve, but he works so hard. He works as hard in the classroom as he does on the court,” Teresa Matthews stated. “He’s doing college prep work, and this year he will take two AP classes and has a 3.5 GPA going into his junior year of high school. He enjoys discussions and greets everyone with a handshake; he’s very personable,” Ray continued.

Ejike is coached both in high school at Virginia Academy and in AAU, with the Uncommon Bulls, by former St. Joe’s player Duval Simmonds. Simmonds, who played on Hawk Hill under Phil Martelli in the late 90’s, has a unique connection with Ejike. “Duval has been one of many father figures for Ejike,” Ray began. “He came here from Jamaica, so he has that connection as an immigrant. He came here from a foreign country as a tall basketball player, just like Ejike. He has a connection there.”

At 6’10, 225 pounds, Ejike Obinna is an intimidating presence on the floor. Despite his size and motor, he entered July with just one lone offer, from George Mason. That changed drastically in the matter of a couple weeks in July. “Ejike's hope was to have ten offers by the end of July. He got 11 new ones, and after each one he just had a huge smile and said ‘I gotta keep working, I gotta keep getting better.’ He realizes what he needs to do next and is just very grateful for the offers.

Ejike currently holds a dozen offers. “There's no order at all here, but his offers are Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami, LSU, Cincinnati, Xavier, Rhode Island, Seton Hall, St. Joe’s, Temple, Howard, and George Mason,” Ray listed. In addition to those twelve offers, he also has interest from “Princeton, Wake Forest, Missouri, Clemson, Arkansas, and Notre Dame.”

Over the past few weeks, Ejike has gone on a sort of college tour. At the beginning of the month, he visited Virginia Tech, then followed that up with a trip to New Jersey to see Seton Hall and Princeton, a trip to Ohio to see Xavier and Cincinnati, and then a trip to Philadelphia to see Temple and St. Joe’s.

Teresa took Ejike on his most recent road trip to Philadelphia, and she spoke with Hawk Hill Hardwood about his Temple and St. Joe’s visits.

“Temple was definitely the most urban campus that we’ve seen so far,” Teresa began. “Coach McKie (Aaron) met us and took us on a quick tour around campus. We met with the academic advisor and saw the facilities, athletic and academic. We were really impressed with the facilities. There’s just so much available. It’s an impressive campus and has such a diverse student body. At the end of the visit, we went into Coach Dunphy’s office and he spoke with Ejike about being helping him become more than just a better basketball player, but a better young man. He was very personable.”

After visiting North Broad, Teresa and Ejike made the trip to City Line Avenue to see St. Joe’s. This was Ejike’s second time to Hawk Hill, after visiting last fall. “It was a great visit,” Teresa began. “We were met by Coach Bass (Mark) and a rising senior tour guide who took us around. She took us around the campus, the dorms, the classrooms, the cafeteria. We had a meeting with the academic advisor and she put together a schedule for Ejike. He’s thinking about being a business major, so we saw what classes he would take and saw the business school. The campus was still urban and Ejike liked the hustle and bustle. But it was not in the middle of the city. It was also a bigger campus than I expected, seeing the new part of campus on the other side of City Avenue.”

Teresa continued, saying, “After the campus tour, we went into the basketball facilities. We saw the weight room and watched the team do skill work. We met DeAndre Bembry. It’s a great coaching staff. We went into Coach Martelli’s office and sat with him. All the coaches have been great, but Coach Martelli sat right next to Ejike and looked him in the eye and wanted his whole story. His whole life story. And Ejike gave it to him. Coach Martelli was impressive, he showed how much he cared.”

Ejike Obinna’s rise to popularity among college coaches this summer doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows him. His hunger to constantly improve is deep-rooted in his nature thanks to his background and upbringing. From a lone offer from George Mason to a dozen offers spanning the SEC, Atlantic 10, AAC, ACC, Big East, and more, Ejike Obinna could be resting on his laurels. He’s not. “He isn’t happy yet, he knows he needs to keep working and keep getting better. And he won’t stop until then."

Hawk Hill Hardwood Top Stories