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Posted On: 06/8/18 4:50 PM
Where Derek Emelifeonwu is from, basketball is just not that popular, certainly not compared to the United States.
But ever since he was 11 year old, the Australian, from Canberra, wanted to play basketball in the United States.
A year ago, he made that dream a reality. He spent last winter slicing and dicing opponents in the CIML while helping lead the Valley Tigers to a late-season resurgence, and yet another state tourney berth.
“I’ve wanted to play basketball in the United States for a long time, ever since I was, like, 11. And after a while, when my parents thought I was ready, they let me come over here,” Emelifeonwu said.
He’s been living with his aunt and uncle in Des Moines, on the southside. He open-enrolled at Valley, and chose the Tigers over several other schools.
“We spoke to a lot of the other schools, and the Valley coaches were really accepting and good at getting back, so I ended up going there,” said Emelifeonwu.
After sitting out the first half of last season, he came in and made an immediate impact with the Tigers. Emelifeonwu started right away, and averaged 7.5 points on impressive 55/50/83 shooting clips. Most impressive, is the Tigers — who were 7-7 when he came into the lineup — won 11 of their first 12 games when he was playing.
It’s his poise, his length and his ability to shoot the ball that made him most effective.
“I’m pretty good at finding where my men are and creating, and defensively, as well, I try and use my length to harass my opponent,” Emelifeonwu said.
“I’ve been working on my jumper quite a lot. During my junior season I was always looking for the perfect shot and looking to kick it out for a better shot.”
This spring and summer, Emelifeonwu is playing with one of Iowa’s best AAU teams, Kingdom Hoops-Mosley 17U.
Whereas Valley had a more slow-paced, reserved style of play, he’s able to play more free with Kingdom Hoops.
“At Kingdom, I’m able to be more aggressive, and I’ve got more of that killer instinct,” said Emelifeonwu.
This spring, he’s been working with a Kingdom Hoops coach and former Iowa State All-Big 12 performer Curtis Stinson, getting ready for what will be a big July.
The ultimate goal for Emelifeonwu is to play Division I basketball. Right now, he’s got one Division II offer, from Missouri Western. Other D2 and JuCo programs have been reaching out. He’s got no D1 interest yet.
But Emelifeonwu also mentioned JuCo and prep school as a route he’d consider.
“I’ve thought about that a little bit. If I could find a good prep school, that’d be what I’m looking to do first (if I don’t get a D1 offer).”
Although he was a junior last season, Emelifeonwu is not allowed to play another year at a public school. There’s some rule about transfers from other countries only playing one season.
He could attend a private school if he was so inclined.
Instead, though, Emelifeonwu says he’ll graduate early this summer, and if he doesn’t find a prep school, he says he’ll head to a Juco. That’s only if he doesn’t pick up any D1 offers this summer.
There’s been some top-level prep schools that he’s reached out to, he mentioned Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas as one. But it’s been tough to get those top prep schools to bite.
“A lot of these good prep schools are looking for guys who already have D1 offers, so it’s hard to get these guys to want me at their school,”said Emelifeonwu.
It’ll be a big summer ahead for the composed, self-assured, skilled and well-built combo-guard. And there’s no question, that there will be plenty of eyes on this Australian baller.
Derek Emelifeonwu is ranked by Prep Hoops as a top 50 prospect in his class. To see the full ranking of Iowa’s 2019 class, click here.