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KYUSUNG GONG , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
From left, Capistrano Valley Christian's Spider Adetunji, Amazon Nwoye, and Jeffrey Yan.

International trio provides driving force for CVC

STAFF WRITER

As teenagers, most Orange County students have the luxury of playing high school sports with the support of friends and family just yards away in the stands.

For three members of Capistrano Valley Christian’s boys basketball team, that feeling is unfamiliar, but don’t think the boys feel that way. They’re having the time of their lives.

Seniors Amazon Nwoye, Spider Adetunji and sophomore Jeffrey Yan have each traveled thousands of miles from home in hopes of a better future through an American education and the sport of basketball. They’re playing in their second season at Capistrano Valley Christian.

“Basketball isn’t a sport that people go very far with back home,” Adetunji said. “It was difficult to leave my family, but I chose to make that sacrifice. It’s been good here.”

It’s becoming apparent that the boys basketball program needed them just as much as they needed it.

All three came to the small San Juan Capistrano school before the start of the 2014-15 school year, working hard to adjust to the American culture in addition to their academics and improvements on the court.

“It’s been a dream of mine to come to America and go to school,” Nwoye said. “When I first got here, basketball was an adjustment, but school here has been easy because back home you have to prepare for everything.”

They are now the driving force of Capistrano Valley Christian basketball, which has a 9-4 record through Friday.

“It’s ridiculous,” Eagles team captain KCI Thompson said. “To not be able to see your family for years upon end and not to be able to go home for the holidays, that shows their dedication. It takes a lot of heart to do that.”

Nwoye and Adetunji are 7,691 miles from their hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. Yan is 6,530 miles away from Shanghai.

All three made a decision with their families to come to the United States after learning of Capistrano Valley Christian’s international students program.

According to the school’s website, approximately 22 percent of the high school population at the school is made up of international students, representing 10 countries.

The boys basketball program has hosted international student athletes in the past, including Simon Okolue, a 6-foot-8 forward who graduated last season and was a big help in getting the boys adjusted to the culture.

Nwoye and Adetunji both check in at 6 feet 7 inches. Yan is 6-foot-10.

“We hung out with teammates sometimes,” Nwoye said of his first season. “It was challenging because I had to adjust myself to playing this type of basketball. Now I feel I’m getting better.”

Nwoye and Adetunji came in with plenty of athletic ability, but needed fundamental work in basketball, Capistrano Valley Christian coach Zach Brogdon said.

Basketball in Nigeria is more of an individual effort, Nwoye said, with maybe one or two designed plays per team. The sport is much more organized in the U.S., so learning a playbook was a struggle at the outset.

In addition, Nwoye and Adetunji have packed on muscle in the weight room, coming into the 2015-16 season much bigger.

“Basketball is more organized here,” Adetunji said. “Back home, everyone just plays where they can and they go fast. Here, we run a lot of plays and settle down to find a way to score points.”

Brogdon said Yan, on the other hand, had great coaching in China and possesses some of the most gifted footwork for a kid his size. But weight and nutrition were a concern.

When Yan arrived in 2014, he weighed 385 pounds and, even with his height, could not reach the rim. In almost 18 months since his arrival, Yan has lost 110 pounds.

While fundamentals were an issue for his counterparts, adjusting to the speed of the game in the U.S. has been Yan’s biggest challenge, in addition to the language barrier.

“It’s been hard for me with the second language,” Yan said. “Both Amazon and Spider have helped keep my energy up with my lifting and weight training. The game is harder, it’s a different style. American basketball is a little slow, but there are a lot of fast players that help me push myself to become a better player.”

Nwoye and Adetunji have had no problem adjusting in the classroom – they boast 4.0 GPAs. Yan, two years younger, has worked hard to improve a sub-2.0 GPA during his freshman year to a 2.8 to become academically eligible.

Being so far from home, the three have bonded through their hardships. Nwoye and Adetunji don’t show their feelings of being homesick, but for Yan, who comes from a culture that puts much emphasis on children, it’s been more of a struggle.

Yan makes it home twice a year, but has always wanted to see his family during Christmas break, a time where basketball programs are entrenched in tournament season.

This year, Yan’s father made the trip to see his son play in games over the holidays. Brogdon said he’s never seen Yan happier.

“His dad is so proud of him,” Brogdon said. “It’s hard. I couldn’t imagine it.”

On Monday, Capistrano Valley Christian’s three big men are preparing for a photo shoot in the school gym.

While waiting for the set-up, they take on one another in post drills to see who has the most success. It’s a common occurrence, given their size.

Yan is constantly in charge of guarding his two older counterparts in practice.

Adetunji finds it hard to score on Yan, who continuously finds ways to poke the ball away before he Adetunji has the chance to shoot, drawing plenty of hearty laughs.

Their attitudes have made it easy for the boys to adjust to the new culture and new teammates. Brogdon said he’s done more to build team chemistry this season by canceling practices in lieu of other activities like movies and paintball, among others.

“We had just come over, so we didn’t really hang out with the guys a lot since most of them were seniors,” Adetunji said. “We were just getting to know everyone. Now we have guys that we’ve been with for more than a year. Now we want to bring all the new guys in together.”

The Eagles broke into the county top 10 earlier this season, a feat never before accomplished by the program. The Eagles have already notched high-profile wins over Corona del Mar and Yorba Linda, both of which were in the county top 10.

Adetunji and Nwoye have been the team’s two leading scorers this season, averaging 15.4 and 14.7 points per game, respectively. Both are fearless in driving to the rim, either finishing through contact or finding an open shooter on the perimeter. Teammate Cameron Conley has benefited most, scoring 10.5 points per game while firing 107 3-pointers through the team’s first 18 games.

“I like to give plays to my teammates so that if I can’t get to the basket, they can score,” Nwoye said. “Sometimes you get hit or bumped, but you have to do it. That’s my type of basketball, getting to the hoop and finding the open shooter.”

Brogdon believes both Nwoye and Adetunji can guard any position and score from anywhere, though the coach quipped that he wishes they wouldn’t take so many 3-pointers.

Both are being looked at by NAIA schools. Nwoye’s vision is to complete college and head back to Nigeria to help others in need.

Yan, while in a reserve role, hasn’t factored as much in scoring, but when he’s shown what he can do in the post, he’s been successful.

His vision and passing ability have been key, Brogdon said, and his ability to fill in seamlessly when others are in foul trouble has been a huge lift.

“If you watch any of our games, their play says it all,” Thompson said. “They all have a big impact on the game and they make the team what we are. They’ll step up their game even more.”

Capistrano Valley Christian will be a frontrunner – along with rival Saddleback Valley Christian – to win the San Joaquin League title when league play begins Jan. 22.

Having three kids of this size is surely an advantage for any coach, but add the desire for a better life in America and the sacrifices already made to get to this point and Brogdon knows he has three kids who have the ability to persevere through adversity.

“If you watch any of our games, their play says it all,” Thompson said. “They all have a big impact on the game and they make the team what we are. They’ll step up their game even more.”

Contact the writer: npercy@ocregister.com


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