In 2013, my freshman year at Dayton, I went to our gym, the RecPlex, every day. I’m talking every single day.
Classes were done? Off to the Rec.
Friday night? Rec.
Saturday morning? Rec.
I probably spent more time hooping than I spent in my dorm room. And pretty early on, I think other kids noticed. But not like, Oh, that kid’s really good at basketball. Nah, it was more like, Oh, that Jeremiah kid down the hall? He’s a weirdo. He never goes out. He doesn’t like to drink.
I guess they were right. I didn’t want to drink. I wanted to ball. And if that made me weird, then I liked being weird. Honestly, I didn’t really care about what all those kids thought of me when they saw me walking into the gym in shorts and a T-shirt at 9:30 at night.
I mean, I remember spending my first Halloween on campus — notoriously one of the biggest party nights at Dayton — alone in the Rec, where the only sounds in the whole place were my bouncing basketball and my sneakers screeching on the waxed hardwood floor.
All the hours I spent there … I kept telling myself they’d be worth it. If there was one thing I had learned, it was that I should never give up. And after freshman year was over, I went back home and continued to work hard in the gym.
I was determined to get a chance to play on a D-I squad, and I was going to do anything to make that a possibility. At the beginning of my sophomore year, a few days after dropping off my résumé and cover letter at Dayton’s athletic department, I received an email from a graduate assistant that said I would get a 10-minute tryout. It didn’t sound like much, but I was intent on making the most of it.
At the tryout, I ran around some cones, put up a few shots and showed the graduate assistant my handle. When my 10 minutes were up he blew his whistle and called me to the sideline. I could tell by the tone of his voice that I hadn’t made it.
“I love your heart, Jeremiah,” he said, “but all the spots on the team are filled. We do have one opening on the bench for a team manager. Is there any chance you would want to fill that role?”
I couldn’t help but give him a wry smile. I mean, I was sad, but getting a spot at the end of the bench sounded like the next best thing to actually making the team.
I’d get right up into a starter’s face, call out picks and do all sorts of little things to show my attention to detail.
“Yeah, I’ll gladly do that.”
Before I left he gave me one piece of advice.
“Always bring your basketball shoes to practice,” he said. “You’ll want to be ready to impress someone.”
He was right. At practices, the coaches would play me in scrimmages. I’d get right up into a starter’s face, call out picks and do all sorts of little things to show my attention to detail. After practice ended, I’d stick around to clean up and then shoot around for an hour or more.
Early on in the 2014–15 season, something crazy happened. Three players suffered season-ending injuries, and two more were dismissed from the team due to an off-court incident. That left us with only seven scholarship players.
I was sitting on the bench with a ball in my lap after practice one day when Bill Comar, Dayton’s director of basketball operations, sat down next to me.
“Hey, Bonsu, I’ve got a question for you.”
My heart skipped a beat, but I didn’t say anything.
“You know the situation we’re in with losing all these bodies. How would you like to be—”
We both laughed.
“You didn’t let me finish!”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
I was going to be a walk-on for the Dayton Flyers. All my hard work had paid off.
Not bad for a guy who had only scored one point in his entire high school career.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the game of basketball. When I was a kid I didn’t get the chance to hoop much. My family lived in Newark, New Jersey, and my parents didn’t always want me to go to the park. They said it was dangerous, especially if I went by myself.
Yeah, I guess that was true, but I had to get my basketball fix somehow, so I started following the NBA. Instead of playing, I spent afternoons and evenings glued to the television watching live games and reruns.
All that changed when I was 12 when we packed up and moved to Ohio. I’ll never forget what my sister, Janice, told me as we entered our new hometown, Reynoldsburg.
“Jeremiah, look at all these trees,” she said pointing out the window. “You’re going to be able to play sports outside now instead of just watching them on TV.”
A few months later, my family moved again to Pickerington, Ohio. When I enrolled at Pickerington North High, I made it my top priority to play varsity basketball. It was my dream. What I didn’t realize then, though, was that it would become an obsession.
I was the last player cut from the team when I was a freshman. I was then cut from junior varsity. But instead of watching from the bleachers, I decided to join the varsity team as its manager.
I didn’t make either team as a sophomore, so I stayed on as varsity’s manager. A couple of days after tryouts, I was walking alone in a Pickerington North hallway when another kid suddenly turned the corner.
“You’re a wannabe basketball player. You’re a loser.”
My feet stopped. My mind didn’t. Stay cool. Just stay cool.
This kid’s words lit a fire in my belly. I wasn’t going to quit on my goal. I continued to spend most of my time at the gym, working out with a few of my friends who were on the team.
By junior year, I figured I had improved enough to make the team. During tryouts, I did everything I could. I dove for loose balls. I was vocal. I made shots. But the coaches still cut me.
I wanted to just give up. My self-confidence was shot. I didn’t even want to be a manager anymore. I would arrive at school and not want to speak to anybody, even my best friends. Fortunately, though, my friends wouldn’t let me get away with that.
One night they asked me if I wanted to go hang out at McDonald’s. I thought, McDonald’s? Why would we go there to chill? But it turns out I owe a lot to that place, and I owe even more to the friends who were there with me.
We arrived at around 6:30 and ordered. Five hours later, my burger was still sitting there, cold and greasy. Thank goodness that particular McDonald’s was open 24 hours. We had spent the entire night talking. My friends told jokes. They teased me about how weird I had been acting. They made me feel normal again.
I stayed on as the manager of the basketball team, but more importantly I rededicated myself to making varsity. I started using workout videos from J.J. Watt and other professional athletes on YouTube as a guide for my own training. I read Jay Bilas’s book, Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court. I really connected with what Mr. Bilas wrote. Man, I just felt good.
Come senior year, I left nothing on the table. But I was nervous. How could I not be? This was my last shot. After tryouts, Coach sat me down in his office.
I would arrive at school and not want to speak to anybody, even my best friends. Fortunately, though, my friends wouldn’t let me get away with that.
“Jeremiah, we can’t promise you anything—”
I started to cry. I was getting cut. Again.
“—but I think we all know you deserve to be on the team this year.”
Wait … really?
My eyes lit up. I wasn’t a wannabe. I wasn’t a loser. I was a varsity basketball player, and I was damn proud of that.
Out in the parking lot, my boys from the team stood around waiting for the gym door to swing open. When I came out smiling, they started running towards me and went absolutely crazy.
“Booooy! You did it! It’s all you, man! It’s all you! You did it, Bonsu!”
I had never felt happiness like that in my life.
I ended my senior season having scored one point. All season long. One single point.
I busted my ass in practice, but I only saw action in garbage time. I was the guy whose name fans would chant late in the second half.
“We want Bon-su!” Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. “We want Bon-su!”
And when the coaches subbed me into a game, the place would go crazy. It was actually mad funny.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t care that the coaches didn’t play me. I knew that I was capable of being a leader in ways that didn’t show up on the stat sheet. And I knew that I had persevered to finally make my dreams come true.
But I’m competitive, and once I got a taste of success I wanted more. When I got to Dayton, I was dead set on making the varsity team, so I spent my days and nights in the Rec.
There was another kid who’d also show up at the gym on Friday and Saturday nights. One time, when it was just us two, I introduced myself. His name was Joey, and his skinny, pale body was draped in an oversized Michigan State T-shirt. He was also wearing gray shorts and … running shoes. Running shoes. I mean, I thought this kid was a scrub.
Just before we checked the ball for some one-on-one, two other kids walked into the gym. We decided to run twos, with me guarding Joey.
This scrub in running shoes then scored 13 straight points on me! Absolutely made me look like a fool, but I loved his fire. I found out later that Joey was the son of Jay Gruden — the coach of the Washington Redskins — so I guess his competitiveness makes sense.
After the game, Joey and I exchanged numbers and made plans to meet each other at the Rec for some early-morning shootarounds four or five days a week.
One day in April 2014, Joey and I had been hooping for a while when two walk-ons from the basketball team entered the gym. The Flyers had just returned from their third-round run at the 2014 NCAA tournament and the two guys were looking to run. Of course, Joey and I were up for it.
Twenty-one points later, the game was over. We took care of them pretty quickly.
On the sideline, Joey looked at me, sweat dripping from his eyebrows, down his cheeks and onto the floor.
“Yo, you wanna try to walk on?”
I was thinking, Hell, yeah! But I didn’t want to look too eager.
“You serious, bro? You wanna do it?”
His smile sent the sweat around his jaw.
I even got to cut down some net.
Over the final few months of freshman year, and throughout the summer, Joey and I came up with drills to try to mimic Kobe’s or Dirk’s game. We’d constantly text and call each other to make sure we were keeping up with our regimen. We hit the gym pretty hard and put on a ton of muscle.
By the time classes started again, we were ready to take a shot at making the team. That was when I submitted a résumé to the basketball office. Joey made it. I became the manager. A few months later, we became teammates. A few weeks after that, we were on our way to the NCAA tournament.
I even got to cut down some net.
This story isn’t about me, to be honest.
I think, deep down, this story is about my parents. See, they’re from Ghana. When they immigrated to the U.S., they brought their Ghanaian principles with them. In Ghana, education is paramount. So, in our household, any extracurricular activity was considered a distraction.
The fact that I had committed so much time to making the basketball team couldn’t have been a good thing in their eyes. My sister had already received a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University, and I think they wanted me to follow in her footsteps. The moment I learned that I had made the Dayton team, I immediately thought about them. I was worried about their reaction, but they were my first phone call anyway.
Turns out, I didn’t have anything to worry about it.
It was the first time I had heard my dad scream with joy. My mom began to cry. I can’t really explain why they reacted the way they did because they had never shown that much emotion before — especially with regard to basketball.
My parents may never understand the reasons why I fell in love with basketball. But hopefully they know that this beautiful game has made me truly happy. And I hope my story can be some sort of inspiration to those who may be thinking about giving up. Even a kid who scored one point his entire high school career can make his college basketball dreams come true.
You may say that I was just in the right place at the right time — that I didn’t really earn that spot. You know what I’d say right back? Yeah, I guess that’s true. But I also put in an extraordinary amount of work to put myself in position to capitalize on the situation. All of that work was worth something. And I’m not done fighting for more.
I haven’t played a single second yet. But I know my time will come. It always has. It’s just a matter of how much effort I put into the game.
So, I’m not sure if the Flyer faithful will be chanting my name this year. But I want them to know one thing: If I get out there on the court, I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.
Because I’ve never done anything less.
My ultimate goal? Well, one day, I want to be a coach. And not just any coach — I want to lead a top-tier D-I program. Trust me, I’m going to put in the work to achieve this dream. I don’t know any other way.
I know I’ll have my doubters. But that’s nothing new. I’ve been proving people wrong my entire life, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.