Fay: Eliel Nsoseme, a UC recruit from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has huge star potential

And 'he really loves the game'

CINCINNATI -- When you can find rating lists for eighth-graders, it's not often that college recruiters find a relatively unknown player with the potential to be a star.

Eliel Nsoseme is one such player.

Nsoseme, who signed with the University of Cincinnati in early November, didn't show up on the recruiting radar because he grew up in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He had never played indoors or with shoes on – much less with rims with nets -- until emigrating to Canada 18 months ago. But the kid who was playing barefoot just a short time ago will be sporting $100 Under Armor sneakers when he takes the court next fall at Fifth Third Arena.

How does that happen?

"I have a friend who's an AAU coach in his area in Canada," UC associate head coach Larry Davis said. "He called and said there was a kid I should look at. I went and watched him."

Nsomeme was getting some attention on the AAU circuit by then, so Davis called head coach Mick Cronin with a sense of urgency. 

"Larry said, 'You've got to get to the next tournament immediately,' " Cronin said. "After the first game I saw him play, we offered him a scholarship and made him a priority recruit."

He signed on the first day of the signing period.

"He's had a tremendous journey," Cronin said.

Nsoseme's talent -- he's lean and athletic at 6-foot-9 -- is such that it was an easy call for Cronin.

"Whenever you find a 6-9 guy with the wingspan that Eliel has who has a high motor … He's got great quickness for a 6-9 guy. It's really hard to find 6-9 human beings, especially in Cincinnati," Cronin said.

"For a guy to be able to use your size and athleticism, you've got to have a motor to run around and use it. He's got great passion for the game of basketball."

The catch with Nsoseme is that he spoke four languages when he arrived in Canada -- and English wasn't one of them.

He spent last season at Clarkson Academy in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. He averaged 14 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks per game.

This year, he's playing at The RISE Centre Academy in Brantford, Ontario. RISE is a regional power.

Nsoseme lives on campus. He's continued to develop on and off the court, and getting comfortable with English is a priority.

"It's coming along. It's coming along," RISE coach Tyrell Vernon said. "He can definitely hold a conversation. He understands what everyone's saying. But he doesn't always come off as fluent. He's almost there. He's working hard at it."

Eliel Nsoseme's 16-point, 13-rebound performance led The Rise Centre Academy to victory over Athlete Institute Prep on Oct. 22. (Photo provided by Michael Simonetta)

Vernon and Davis think Nsoseme will be able to handle the rigors of college in the states. Nsoseme's father is a minister in Kinshasa. Nsoseme came to Canada through an exchange program with his church -- and for the opportunity to play basketball.

"He's a smart kid," Davis said. "He comes from an educated family. I've dealt with international players before. I think he'll be able to handle it."

Vernon said Nsoseme pushes it as hard in the classroom as he does on the court.

"Very, very hard-working," Vernon said. "He doesn't waste time. Any time we're in the gym, he wants to figure out, 'What's next? What can I improve on?' In the classroom, he doesn't stop. He really takes advantage of study hall time. He asks for help if there's something he doesn't understand. He might not understand the questions in English. He doesn't waste time. He uses every second he has.

"I always tell people, if your work ethic is second to none, you won't have a problem with anything. To speak five different languages, to come from where he came from and to come here and play and get a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati is pretty impressive. His work ethic will take him far."

Nsoseme is surprisingly developed for someone relatively new to organized basketball.  

"He's very developed," Vernon said. "I would say his best attribute is he's very coachable. He's very active. He has one of the quickest second jumps I've ever seen. He's a tenacious defender. He can switch on the point guard and guard him and do a good job.

 "His offense is coming along. The fluidity on the offensive end is what is going to come next for him, but defensively he's there."

Again, Nsoseme has great zeal for the game.

"When I saw him in Las Vegas and they got eliminated, you would have thought he lost the national championship," said Cronin. "To him, it was. He doesn't know."

Nsoseme didn't know much about the Bearcats before his visit.

"He wouldn't know the difference between us and the Lakers," Cronin said. "I think some of the people around him didn't see any need for him to get confused. In their opinion, we clearly wanted him more than anybody else. We were very clear from Day 1.

"They thought it was a good fit. He blocks shots. He's athletic."

Cronin says the final selling point for him on Nsoseme was his love of the game.

"Everybody doesn't love basketball," Cronin said. "Some guys play it because of their height. Some guys play because they're supposed to. He really loves the game."

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