New York Times: Siena Rebounder Jumps Out of a Shadow

Posted on 02.21.2012 | By: JACK STYCZYNSKI | View original article here

As the college basketball season winds down, it appears Staten Island will soon have a rebounding champion.

A year ago, Ryan Rossiter of Siena, a Staten Island native, averaged 13.2 rebounds a game but finished second in the country to Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried. Faried has since moved on to the N.B.A., and Rossiter also graduated last spring.

So stepping into that void is O. D. Anosike, Rossiter’s borough mate and former teammate at Siena.

A product of St. Peter’s Boys High School in Staten Island, Anosike is pulling down 12.7 rebounds a game this season — nearly double his average last season — and has a sizable lead in the national race with only a handful of games remaining.

“Last year it was tough for me to get rebounds,” Anosike said, referring to the presence of Rossiter. “Now that he’s gone, I’m kind of able to come into my own and corral some rebounds myself.”

Siena Coach Mitch Buonaguro has other ideas on the emergence of Anosike, a 6-foot-8 junior forward. “He’s relentless,” Buonaguro said. “He really has the whole package in terms of rebounding.”

Anosike believes it is much simpler. “I just play with energy,” he said.

That energy was cultivated in a large family amid challenging circumstances.

Oderah Anosike was the seventh of eight children born to Nigerian immigrant parents: his father, Ben, a lawyer, and his mother, Ngozi, a nurse. His sister Nicky played college basketball at Tennessee and now plays professionally in China and in the W.N.B.A. An older brother, Ifesinachi, also played college ball, at Salem State in Massachusetts, but beyond that, the family has no significant history of athletic participation.

The nickname O .D. originated early. “In kindergarten the kids had trouble pronouncing Oderah, so my mom said, ‘Just call him O. D., the first two letters of his name,’ and it kind of stuck with me ever since,” said Anosike, whose given name translates to “whatever God has written can never be taken away.”

The Anosike children received names based on what Ngozi experienced during pregnancy. Many of them acknowledge God, and all are inspirational in nature. O. D. and his siblings all attended Catholic school. “That’s why we’re always poor,” Ngozi said, laughing.

All joking aside, the Anosikes had their struggles. Ben, who wrote a series of books on how to act as your own lawyer, eventually left the family, leaving Ngozi to raise the children essentially by herself as she was studying to become a nurse. Living quarters were crowded, with everybody sharing one bathroom.

“We didn’t think that was abnormal because that’s all we knew,” said O .D.’s sister Rotanna, the second of the eight children. “If anything, that made us even closer.”

O. D. was less diplomatic in describing the atmosphere. “It was unbelievable,” he said. “Definitely had its ups and downs.”

Their mother is the most direct of all, calling it “very rough” and “difficult.”

Despite that, both parents emphasized schoolwork. Ben never became estranged from the children, and there was no fight over child support. “Our differences were kept to ourselves,” Ngozi said. “The children’s education came first.”

By the time O. D. started school, there was extra pressure coming from his siblings, too. Now a physician, Rotanna was particularly demanding.

“I was the hardest on him when it came to report cards,” she said. “I was never happy with a B or a C. I wanted an A because I knew that O.D. had that in him.”

He did. In his latest semester at Siena, Anosike had a 3.75 grade-point average, comparable to what Nicky had when she graduated from Tennessee as an academic all-American.

“I just try to follow in her footsteps,” he said, obviously having basketball in common as well. “My older siblings showed me the ropes.”

His basketball prowess became evident at St. Peter’s, where he was coached by Charlie Driscoll. In his sophomore year, Anosike faced Rossiter and his Monsignor Farrell team three times, with St. Peter’s winning twice, including for the Staten Island championship. “O. D. definitely held his own against Ryan,” Driscoll said, even though Rossiter was a senior that season.

Driscoll calls Anosike “the best player I coached, without a doubt,” and notes that he was an unusual forward because he assumed a role typically associated with point guards. “He was always the smartest player on the team,” Driscoll said. “He could figure out what the other team was doing and he’d come up with good suggestions.”

During the summer of 2008, after his junior year in high school, the pursuit of Anosike to play college basketball became frenzied. “It was a hectic period,” he said. “In July I really blew up. I probably gained about 25 offers in the July recruiting period alone.”

By the time his senior year began, Anosike had 38 scholarship offers, ranging from Atlantic 10 to Northeast Conference programs, and some others out west. At that point, Driscoll intervened.

“I had to say to him, ‘O. D. you’ve got to cut this down. I love you, kid, but I can’t be talking to college coaches all day.’”

Anosike narrowed his list to Siena, Delaware, Hofstra, George Mason and Temple, choosing Siena after he visited the Loudonville, N.Y., campus at the end of September. He cited multiple reasons, including that it was not too far from home.

“My parents could come up and see me play,” he said. “Great academic school. I was really impressed with the coaching staff and players, and just the opportunity they offered me to come and play meaningful minutes as a freshman.”

At the time, Siena was in the middle of a three-year run as Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion, which included N.C.A.A. tournament victories over Vanderbilt and Ohio State in consecutive seasons. Buonaguro was the team’s top assistant to Fran McCaffery during that era, and he still remembers Anosike’s decision.

“He perceived Siena as a really good midmajor, almost a high-major program, and he wanted to play in that environment,” Buonaguro said.

Portending what was to come, Anosike played for the Jordan Brand Classic City team at Madison Square Garden in April 2009, where the game program called him “a beast on the offensive and defensive boards.”

Flash forward almost three years, and Anosike talks about motivation coming from the colleges that did not offer him a scholarship, as if 38 weren’t enough.

“I kind of play with a chip on my shoulder because I had about half the Big East schools looking, but they didn’t bite, they didn’t offer,” he said. “Now that I’m playing well, I want to show them what they missed out on.”

And he’ll have yet another season to do that after the current one ends, leaving everyone to guess what his future may hold.

“O. D. is a very aggressive, determined young man,” his mother said.

“He’s still scratching the surface as far as his overall ability,” said Tom Huerter, a Siena radio and television analyst.

“I think next year he’s going to be even better,” Buonaguro said.