BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It may look easy when to watch Ikenna Smart on the court for the UB men’s basketball team. But, playing hoops was a big adjustment, even for the 6-foot-10 sophomore. Smart grew up in Nigeria where the sport was just an afterthought.
“I always played soccer, Smart said. “That was my #1 sport. I still love soccer don’t get me wrong!”
While in his early teens things all changed. A local Nigerian baseball coach stopped him following a soccer practice.
“I said I have never played before and he said ‘you just need to rebound and block the shot.. don’t let them score.'”
Armed with the most basic skills, Ikenna’s basketball journey brought him to the United States where he lived with a host family in North Carolina. As he continued to grow, so did his game. Suddenly Ikenna was on college coaches radars, including the University at Buffalo staff. They recruited him for what he does on the court and who his is off it.
“He is a guy who generally appreciates what he has been given here, head coach Nate Oats said. “He says thank you and shows appreciate for all of it not just the basketball side of it but also the education.”
“Honestly growing up in Nigeria most of the kids want to be in my shoes,” Smart added.
And now, they will get a chance to be in his shoes…and his teammates shoes.
“When we clean the locker room in the middle of the year and we had all these shoes,” Oats continued. “And were going to throw them away…and he collected them!”
“It is hard to get shoes down there so I am collecting shoes from my teammates and other people,” Smart said. “Just taking them down there and play a pick up game and talk to the guys. so that is my plan this summer.”
“I don’t know how many he has to take back,” Oats said with a laugh. “We are going to have to do a fundraiser to take the extra luggage on the plane!”
Smart hopes his contribution will serve as a source of inspiration for young children in his native Nigeria.
“If i can let them know that it can happen, just think about it and keep working and maybe one day somebody can pick you up the way I was picked up, you know?