JOHNSON CITY —You can certainly say Silas Adheke has come a long way in his basketball career, and it has nothing to do with the 5,700 miles between Johnson City and Lagos, Nigeria.
Adheke, the biggest member of the latest recruiting class for East Tennessee State’s basketball team, is a relative newcomer to the sport.
In fact, eight years ago he actually had to Google the word “basketball” to see what it was all about. These days, he’s a 6-foot-8, 245-pound grad transfer trying to help rebuild an ETSU front court that lost Jeromy Rodriguez, Lucas N’Guessan and Joe Hugley to graduation.
Adheke was a soccer player in Nigeria. The principal of his school could see the youngster growing, and every time he crossed paths with Adheke, he said the word “basketball.”
“I had just finished seventh grade, and my principal told me I should be playing basketball,” Adheke said. “He was always saying basketball.”
Adheke didn’t know anything abut this strange new game, so he Googled it. Even though there wasn’t a basketball court at his school, it piqued his interest.
His family moved to Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria. That’s where he found the game — or it found him.
“I joined a basketball academy, and the coach told me it would take three years before I could go to the U.S. and play. My parents wanted to send me to the U.S., and I thought if I could do it playing basketball, I could get my education as well.
“I thought, ‘Man, if I work hard for three months, we’ll see what happens.’ ”
In three months, Adheke got the chance to come to the United States. He settled in Chattanooga, where he started playing AAU basketball. The only problem was he had never played in an organized game. All he knew was fundamentals such as “shooting, making layups and chest passes.”
“In AAU, the guards were running down the court, and their skill level was shocking,” he said. “Everything was like in fast-forward. I was like, ‘Wow. I can’t believe the game is this fast. I’ve got to get in the gym and work.’ ”
Adheke played for Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, where he lived with a family that has become his second family, and he eventually became good enough to be recruited by colleges. He first went to Evansville, where he sat out his first season.
When he decided he wanted a change of scenery, he spent a year in junior college.
That’s when Northern Kentucky came calling, and he spent two years with the Norse, winning the Horizon League both seasons.
Northern Kentucky lost its coach, John Brannen, to Cincinnati after Adheke’s first year, and he had seen his playing time dwindle as his second season wore down. Adheke played a total of five minutes in the team’s final two games in Darrin Horn’s first season as NKU’s coach.
Adheke, who will arrive at ETSU with a degree in mathematics, figured it was time to make another move.
While in high school, Adheke attended Steve Forbes’ camp at ETSU one summer. He readily admits he was less than impressed with Johnson City at the time.
“When I was in high school, I did not like that it was not like a city,” he said. “That was the high school part of me. I’m 21 years old now. I’m not coming for the big city and partying and having all that fun. I’m coming to grind and play basketball and win and go professional. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Adheke said ETSU was the first school to contact him when he placed his name in the transfer portal.
“It was so appealing,” Adheke said. “It’s an opportunity that’s wide open. I’m a very big competitor. I want to take on a huge role.
“It’s very exciting. I’ve always been part of a winning program. Being able to come in and continue that culture is exciting. When you see an opportunity like that, you seize it. That’s what I did at ETSU.”
Adheke’s size is what makes him stand out at first, but he hopes his work ethic and physical play make him a fan favorite.
“I’m a relentless competitor,” he said. “I’m very physical. I want to win. It’s going to be hard for the opponent to go through me. I come in very tough. Every day I work hard — very tough in the weight room, very tough on the court and very friendly off the court.”
Where does Adheke see himself after his one year at ETSU?
“The NBA,” he said. “I believe without a doubt. Many people do not believe it’s possible. I believe it’s possible.”