NBA Draft 2021

Eugene Omoruyi: The Canadian-Nigerian underdog aims to make a name for himself in the NBA

If you haven't heard the name Eugene Omoruyi yet, you're not alone.

Omoruyi has flown under the radar his whole life on the basketball court, and as Thursday's NBA Draft approaches, he'll likely fly under the radar again.

Omoruyi's name doesn't appear on many mock drafts and if his name does get called, it will likely be in the second round. It's par for the course for the 6-foot-6, 235-pound wing from Rexdale, Ontario, whose basketball journey might have never happened.

Omoruyi got a late start to the game of basketball. In his freshman year of high school at Monsignor Percy Johnson in Rexdale, he was introduced to the game, but he began truly playing his sophomore year under head coach Franco Cicchetti. Omoruyi was primarily a soccer player to that point in his life, but most of his friends were hoopers, so in an effort to spend more time with his friend group, Omoruyi casually picked up hoops. What initially started as a social experience, turned into something special for Omoruyi.

Omoruyi quickly picked up the game and its nuances and began to show the potential that he could take his game beyond the high school level. A stop at West Humber C.I. helped continue his basketball growth and a final year at Orangeville Prep, playing alongside Jamal Murray and Thon Maker, finally put him on the map - or so he thought.

Omoruyi was a top 15 player in the nation according to North Pole Hoops (NPH). He won both the Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and Orangeville Prep won the OSBA Championship. But when the time came to be selected for the Biosteel All-Canadian Game - Canada's primer high-school All-Star game - Omoruyi wasn't part of the group. Omoruyi credits that moment with him taking a big step in his game and being motivated to prove people wrong.

"I always thought about that throughout my college years, me not making that game," Omoruyi told NBA.com. "I felt like I should have been in the game just because...I was the MVP of the season. So, me not making that game was a very big thing.

"It surprised me, but it's life. Sometimes, when it comes to this basketball journey, there's ups and downs - so I learned that and I use that to motivate me to continue to go even harder.

"I want to prove to everyone that was in that game that they're going to notice who I was at the end of the day. I feel like I'm making that happen."

After committing to Rutgers University and playing three seasons there, Omoruyi transferred to the Oregon University, thinking that the move would help showcase his abilities. The move paid off as Omoruyi averaged 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals while shooting 47.3 percent from the field. Omoruyi received All-Pac 12 first-team honours for his career year.

The transfer paid off and confirmed what Omoruyi had always thought - that he could do more. Omoruyi was always a defensive weapon but he thrived offensively in coach Dana Altman's system.

He showed his ability to put the ball on the deck...

...find his teammates...

And stretch the floor.

The 3-point shooting was probably the biggest eye-opener for Omoruyi. Prior to his lone season at Oregon, the Canadian-Nigerian shot a total of 61 threes in 93 games at Rutgers hitting just 23.0 percent. He took 109 threes in 28 games nailing 37.6 percent of them in Altman's system.

"It was amazing, it was amazing," Omoruyi said of the year he had at Oregon. "I got to do me - I got to play my type of game. And I got to play an NBA system.

"It was a more spaced-out system. More my type of game. And then coach instilled the confidence to shoot the ball and I shot it.

"I worked on my shot, I worked on my dribbles - I work on everything around my game, and just continued to get better throughout the years.

"And I felt like, I just thank God because I didn't get no injuries - I was able to play every game and just being able to continue stepping out there for my teammates and myself was a big thing for me.

"I'm just happy the way it all played out because I've gone through many obstacles to reach here - and it's not been an overnight journey that's for sure."

One of those obstacles were Omoyuri's parents, Jane and Frank, who immigrated to Canada from Nigeria when he was just a toddler. Omoruyi laughs about having to convince his parents to allow him to play basketball now but in the beginning, like most parents, they were more focused on his grades than his stat line. Omoruyi delivered in the classroom so he could continue to grow on the court.

"In the beginning it was rough, they didn't want me to play," Omoruyi continued. "That's one of the obstacles I had to go through. They didn't want to me play, school was a bigger asset for them.

"So me being able to be a scholar in the classroom and transfer that to the court was big and it allowed for me to show them the drive that I had for (basketball), and they allowed me to play and now we're here today.

"I know they're very happy, I know they're very proud. I know they're very anxious about the moment.

"I've taught them a lot about the game (laughs) and they do their research now, so yeah, they're all good now."

Omoruyi's parents have gone from obstacles to biggest supporters. The 24-year-old credits his parents and family members with keeping him motivated and on track through the years. And if he were to hear his name called on Thursday, his family would be the first thing he'd think of.

"They've been beside me. They've been beside me on the days I'm not shooting good, they've been beside me when I'm not playing good some days.

"You have your rough days in life and...they've always stood by me no matter what. So just them being by my side.

"I know it will be an emotional moment for me, but it will be an emotional moment for them also."

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