TWIN FALLS, ID ( KMVT) -- The distance between Warri, Nigeria and Twin Falls, Idaho seems miniscule compared to the basketball journey Kennedy Esume experienced this season.
"This world is not as big as we think it is," Esume said. "A friend of Coach Gosar’s was back home in Nigeria, and he organized a camp, and I was fortunate to be there,” Esume said. “[Gosar] saw me, and that was how everything started."
"I got a phone call in June just asking me, 'Coach, do you have an international scholarship ready?' I've got a kid that you're going to love,'" CSI men’s basketball head coach Steve Gosar recounted.
The 6'9 player packed his bags with his parents' blessings and entered into a new world that has intrigued him since his days as a child.
"All my life I've really kind of been this guy that's been attracted to the American way of life," he said.
Once he arrived, he realized that he still was—in the eyes of the basketball gods—a young player with a lot to learn.
"My first practice? Oh my god, I'm trying so hard to forget it," he laughed. "I looked like a kid trying to play basketball with professional players."
Gosar also laughed when remembering Esume’s first month of practice but gave his big man credit.
"He had not played organized basketball until he came here," he said. "Here's a guy that probably the sum total of everything he learned in basketball before he came here was how to duck-in [and] seal in the post."
Post moves were also a new concept for the big man to grasp because back home he liked to play the game in a completely different way.
“Back home, what I basically do, I dribble the ball a lot. I get the ball at the elbow and try to work my way through [and] drive,” Esume said. “But coming down here, guys my size don't do that kind of stuff."
As Esume--and his teammates--quickly learned, it was quite the challenge for him to completely erase those moves from his arsenal.
"Sometimes it just gets into my head, and I’m like 'Did I just do that?'" he said with a grin.
"There are times, as you saw with the no–look behind the back pass, where he just can't keep it in him," Gosar added with a laugh.
"We played one time, and I made that kind of pass,” Esume said. “[Coach] was calling me, I don't remember the name of the pro ball player--"
"--Magic Johnson,” Gosar said with a chuckle. “It's like, 'Hey Magic, give the ball to a guard."
"In practice I do that kind of thing and he's like, 'Man Kennedy, if you do that kind of thing again, I'm going to take you back to Nigeria," Esume laughed.
Behind that initial learning curve, with a few funny mishaps, was tremendous growth. In just five months, Esume went from being a redshirt prospect to cracking into the Golden Eagles’ starting lineup.
"He's like a good stock. He just keeps getting better and better and better," Gosar said."He's been so coachable that he believes you, and then he does it, and that's why he's been growing so much as player—that's why he's helped us out so much."
Like any college student or student-athlete, the most important lessons often occur outside of the classroom or court. The process of changing from an adolescent to a man is tough, but for Esume, the steps towards becoming an American man have meant accepting major cultural differences—including the weather.
"I was like, 'Oh, hey snow. I've never seen snow before. Okay, fine you're here, can you please go now?' Thank you," Esume laughed.
"We took him to Magic Mountain, and we went sledding, and I can't tell you, he went down the first time—he sounded like a 14-year-old girl coming down screaming his head off,” Gosar said with a smile. “The whole line was sitting there waiting and dying laughing. It was the funniest thing."
Through each new experience off and on the court, the Nigerian player has opened up more and more to his teammates and coaches, but one person has truly helped him find his voice.
"Coach Gosar, he’s a good man. I tell people all the time he's kind of like a Nigerian in white skin," Esume said. "He really wants the best for me, and with that I think I'm going to be in a position to put my best out for the team."
Now don’t be mistaken. This admiration isn’t just one-sided. In fact, the mentee has made quite the impression on the mentor.
"I think by next year,” Gosar said with a definitive tone, “it's going to be scary how good he is if he continues to work."
With the results so far, this statement could be very true. After all, Esume is mastering his new American lifestyle with ease and truly becoming a big fit for the Golden Eagles.