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080111 NU-Siena 2 / Jim Hibbard Photo / Sports / Niagara University / Siena's Alex Franklin, tries to drive against Niagara University Junior, Benson Egemonye, in first half action at the Gallagher Center at Niagara University Friday evening.

As the ball flies off the rim, Benson Egemonye’s basketball story unfolds.

Egemonye is the most ferocious rebounder on the Niagara Purple Eagles, though he ranks behind Charron Fisher for the team lead. Standing nearly as tall his 6-foot-10 listing, Egemonye doesn’t devour the line and let the rebounds come to him, as, say, Shaquille O’Neal does. Nor is he so technically proficient to complete one of the Larry Legends and let a missed shot bounce off the floor into his lap. Far from filled out at 230 pounds, Egemonye isn’t a Dwight Howard type specimen, created to collect caroms, or a rebounding savant like Dennis Rodman.

“I’ve always had a passion for rebounds,” Egemonye says.

One might call it an obsession. Egemonye stalks errant shots, sometimes snagging them with ease for putback baskets, but often, when his path is restricted, makes an aggressive move to deflect the ball and keep his opponent from securing a rebound.

That relentlessness was forged long before Egemonye arrived on Monteagle Ridge.

“Benson’s dream was to play college basketball,” says Joe Mihalich, the Purple Eagles’ head coach. “For some people there’s a — for lack of a better word — simple process. You go to a good high school, you play really well, you earn yourself a scholarship to go play.”

In Benin City, Nigeria, where Egemonye was born, children are raised on soccer. Egemonye was admittedly average at the world’s favorite sport, and only decided to take up basketball as a high school senior. While the rest of the team scrimmaged in practice, Egemonye was forced to learn the fundamentals on the sidelines.

“I was terrible,” he recalls. “I knew little about basketball. They’d just say, ‘keep bouncing.’ It got tiring. I wanted to do what everybody else is doing.”

Though his skills were raw, Egemonye was 6-foot-6 and growing. That intrigued college coaches from the United States, which in turn, inspired Egemonye to keeping bouncing.

“Having an American degree is like having money in your pocket,” he said. “If you tell somebody in Africa that you went to school in America, they want to know more.”

Trouble was, Egemonye couldn’t attend college until he obtained a student Visa, a process that ended up taking four years.

“The longest four years of my life,” he says. “I kept going over there and getting denited, and then I have to wait another six months. Every time I went, it was for a new school.

“I'm not going to lie. I gave up. I thought it wasn’t destined to be.”

By the time Egemonye was able to leave Africa, only Northeastern University in Massachusetts was interested. And by the time Egemonye joined Huskies, he’d found that the playing time he was promised wasn’t guaranteed. Egemonye played a total of 23 minutes in four games before deciding to transfer.

“You can’t just wait for the mountain to come to you,” Egemonye told himself. “You have to go to the mountain.”

Egemonye doesn’t fit the model of post-player production that has been established under Mihalich, though he has the speed to keep up with Niagara’s favored tempo. He’s a true back-to-the basket player, not a face-up scorer like Juan Mendez, and certainly not the 3-point threat that Clif Brown was.

“It’s really just a coincidence that our big guys have been versatile,” Mihalich says. “If you don’t get the 6-10 guy, the next best thing is a Clif Brown. And Mendez became a shooter.

“… Whenever you can get a big guy that’s a presence in the middle, that blocks shots and rebounds and can score an easier basket for you, take him. It’s just too big a part of the game.”

Egemonye sat out for more than a full season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, and has his Niagara debut delayed further by a strained knee ligament. When he finally got on the court last January, Egemonye wasn’t capable of playing his best.

“My injury affected my ability to rebound,” Egemonye says. “Deep down inside of me, I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to get hurt. That was my first injury. I didn’t know how to manage, didn’t know how to cope. If somebody got close to me, I backed off and didn’t want to get hurt again.”

Egemonye averaged 7.7 minutes on last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship team. His biggest contributions came in two late season contests, defending Rider’s Jason Thompson, the MAAC’s premier pivot man.

After dedicating himself to strength training over the summer, Egemonye has regained his passion for rebounding and has been instrumental in the Purple Eagles’ 13-6 start. He already has five double-double performances, and would likely have more if not for foul trouble. His shot-blocking has helped Niagara develop a defensive identity that seemed missing in past years.

“It’s fun to see him have such a presence,” Mihalich says. “He worked so hard.”

Egemonye has also improved his free throw shooting to almost 70 percent, which he attributes to a girlfriend who rebounded for him during the summer, and reminded him how poorly he shot last season (5-for-14).

“Whenever I’m on the line, I remember that she told me I was terrible,” he says. “So I think I got to make at least one of them.”

On track to earn a bachelor’s degree in management this year, Egemonye is leaning toward continuing his education at Niagara. Since he has one more year of basketball eligibility, his graduate studies would be paid for.

“Getting my masters degree is like a dream come true,” he says. “I’m from Africa, I can’t afford a masters.

And he can’t afford to abandon college basketball so quickly.

“I gave up four years just to get to the United States,” he says. “I can’t back down.”