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Ngozi Anosike, a Nigerian immigrant, raised eight children as a single mother.
She’s a registered nurse who worked during the day at a nursing home. Then, after coming home, she fixed dinner and helped her children with their homework before getting a few hours’ sleep and heading to the overnight shift at a psychiatric facility, all to provide for her family in their four-bedroom apartment in a Staten Island housing project.
The second-youngest of her children, a son named Oderah, is still influenced years later by her tenacity and self-sacrifice.
“Just how much she worked when she got here,” he said. “The circumstances weren’t great, but she always persevered through it and was able to give a better life for me and my brothers and sisters.”
Inspired by his mother and taught to play basketball by an older sister, Anosike pursued that brighter future to Siena College.
Anosike, better known to Saints fans by his nickname of “O.D.”, is a 6-foot-8 senior forward who’s one of the most fearsome rebounders in all of college basketball.
He led all NCAA Division I players in the country with 12.5 rebounds per game last season; this season, he’s threatening to defend his title with a nation-best 14.1 per contest entering Saturday’s game against the University at Albany.
He said his approach to the game — and life — is best described by his first name, given by his mother. Oderah is Nigerian for “Whatever God has written can never be taken away.”
“I think it fits me well,” Anosike said. “I’m a persistent person, one that continues to work. I fall down, but I’m able to get back up.”
Anosike, an economics major, holds a cumulative grade-point average of 3.24, including 3.7 as a junior. He’s nominated for the Senior CLASS Award, a national honor given to a senior who excels in the community, classroom, character and competition.
He looks the part of a scholar by wearing glasses, which he admits aren’t prescription. “I think they’re more for style, maybe more to enhance my studious look,” Anosike said with a laugh.
Ngozi Anosike said she and her husband, Ben, put a premium on education. Ben holds a Ph.D. in economics and taught at New York Technical College.
“Education is very, very important to me and to the father,” Ngozi said. “He wanted the children to have the potential to be the best they can be.”
However, Ben Anosike left the family when O.D. was 13 months old. Although O.D. acknowledges he still has a relationship with his father, Ngozi was the one who kept the children together and put O.D. through Saint Peter’s Boys High School, a Catholic institution on Staten Island.
O.D. Anosike described his upbringing as lower middle class in the West Brighton public housing projects, a collection of brick buildings in an impoverished section of the borough. “It definitely had its ups and downs,” he said.
Rotanna, one of his sisters, recalled Christmas being a difficult time. She lied to friends about the presents she hadn’t received because money was tight.
The girls in the family kept a close eye on O.D. Rotanna got on him about his grades. “He is my sweetheart,” said Rotanna, now a doctor in Pennsylvania. “O.D. was not only shaped by his environment, he was also shaped by having four older sisters.”
Another sister, Nicky, was a superb basketball player who went on to win two national championships at the University of Tennessee.
Nicky, who’s five years older, took O.D. to a park on Staten Island and taught him the basics. “I think my sister was the perfect coach for me because we had such a close bond,” he said. “She could tell me something without me getting upset. I looked up to her so much … tough love.”
Nicky said she didn’t teach her brother basketball as much as she showed him who was in charge.
“I’d just overpower him and would never turn down a chance to play against him,” Nicky said. “The last time I played against him was the summer of 2006 at a little park in Staten Island where I was working at a camp. Let’s just say I’m still undefeated and don’t plan on playing against him anymore.”
Nicky plays for the WNBA’s L.A. Sparks during the summer and a professional team in Turkey during the winter. They still communicate once a week.
Watching his sister’s heavy recruitment first convinced O.D. Anosike that he could someday play college basketball.
He starred at Saint Peter’s, staying at the school even after his mother moved to East Orange, N.J., before he entered the eighth grade. Sometimes Anosike made the two-hour commute to school. Other times, he slept over at the home of Saint Peter’s coach Charlie Driscoll.
“He was a pleasure to stay with us,” Driscoll said. “Very responsible young man. A lot of character. Seventh out of eight (kids), and single mom for the most part, and she taught him to be responsible. He did a lot of things on his own.”
Driscoll helped Anosike sift through the 38 Division I scholarship offers he received, though none from what would be considered “big-time” programs.
Anosike admits he wasn’t physically mature enough, weighing only 200 pounds when he graduated high school.
“I wasn’t ready to play on that level,” he said. “I needed time, and that’s what Siena gave me.”
He was intrigued by Siena as soon as he received a phone call from Saints assistant coach Mitch Buonaguro, now the head coach, in April of his junior year of high school.
It also influenced him that Ryan Rossiter, another Staten Island native, had preceded him to Siena and become a star.
He said he loves the family atmosphere at Siena, perhaps similar to growing up in that crowded apartment in Staten Island. He was struck from the minute he stepped on campus by how strangers held doors open for him.
“Siena was at the top of my list from day one,” he said. “It’s just a great atmosphere. I love the neighborhood, the people, and it’s really taught me a lot.”