Onye Ezeakudo could be a starter for a college basketball team right now.
A point guard who broke onto the scene as a senior at Homestead, Ezeakudo had suitors in lower-level college hoops.
But Ezeakudo had his eyes elsewhere. Academic aims had him looking at Pitt, a top-rated school for bio-engineering. Basketball was also an aim, but ACC basketball? A different world than DII or DIII hoops.
Without a scholarship on the table from Pitt, Ezeakudo made it a goal to walk on with the Panthers.
“It is something I knew that I wanted to do,” said Ezeakudo. “The summer after my senior year at Homestead, I tried to contact the coaches (at Pitt) as much as I could. I just kept practicing and kept working.”
Ezeakudo showed out at walk-on tryouts, landing a spot on the Pitt roster coached by Jeff Capel III. As a member of the Panthers, the former Spartan standout suited up everywhere the team went, from road trips to places like Brooklyn, N.Y. and Clemson to the ACC Tournament at the Spectrum Center, home of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
“It was a great experience,” said Ezeakudo about his first year with Pitt. “I used to watch a lot of games on TV at places where we played games. Stuff like that and being able to travel with the team were great experiences for sure.”
As a true freshman walk-on, playing time was sparse for Ezeakudo. He appeared in just two games and did not register a point. It may have been a blessing in disguise as Ezeakudo had to learn how to balance his role in an ACC basketball program along with handling a rigorous academic workload in his major of bio-engineering. Walk-ons must maintain a certain GPA to remain part of the team, making for many early mornings and late nights.
While Ezeakudo is realistic, he also knows that Cinderella stories regarding walk-ons are becoming more prevalent. Coming from Fort Wayne, he knows well the story of Grady Eifert, who went from a decent (but by no means a star) playing career at Bishop Dwenger to being a walk-on at Purdue to starting for the Boilermakers for the majority of the 2018-19 season.
“I see those players and stories and it makes me think I could do the same thing, but at the same time I know it takes a lot of work,” Ezeakudo said. “I am willing to do that work and that’s taken me a long way. Grinding in the gym has usually gotten me results.”
Ezeakudo mans the point guard spot for Pitt, the same position he played at Homestead. It is a comfort thing, but he also knows improving his shot and getting more physical will help him earn more playing time with the Panthers. He is back in Fort Wayne this summer putting in work as he looks to Year 2 at Pitt.
The life of a walk-on is rarely glamorous, but Ezeakudo wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I could have played at a lower level in college, but I feel like I would have always had this thing in the back of my mind wondering what could have happened if I tried to make it on a Division I team,” Ezeakudo said. “I might as well give it a shot and see what happens.”