Defender now, dentist later: BGSU's Uju has sights on different calling

Defender now, dentist later: BGSU's Uju has sights on different calling
Posted: February 28, 2019 / Source: The Blade

BOWLING GREEN — Michael Huger has heard this plan on recruiting visits before.

Occasionally, a recruit will express his desire for college life on the most difficult setting: Playing a Division I sport and signing up for an especially challenging major, such as engineering or pre-med.

Huger, the Bowling Green men’s basketball coach, said the demands often force players into changing majors.

Jeffrey Uju has been far from the average case study.

The Bowling Green big man is playing his final competitive basketball games, as he will pursue a different a calling when the season ends. Uju has his sights set on dental school after his playing career is finished.

“He’s actually the first [player] I’ve ever had in my 14 years of coaching who went into this field,” Huger said. “You’ve got to be special, and that’s what makes him special. He’s capable of doing both.”

The redshirt senior already has graduated from Bowling Green with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. He also is on track to leave BGSU with a master’s in business administration and a 3.5 grade-point average.

Uju said he likes making people smile and was blessed with good teeth, and he felt dentistry would be a fit while playing Division I basketball in the meantime. He said it’s possible to juggle the never-ending work for basketball and the rigors of prerequisites like organic chemistry, but it takes a single-minded person.

“Usually, you don’t see basketball players who are taking are a harder degree plan, because basketball is so tough,” Uju said. “When you compound that with having to get good grades in tough classes, it’s even harder. But anybody can do it. You just have to want to put the work in.”

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Uju grew up as the eldest of five children in the Chicago area, where his parents, Geoffrey and Ada, own a home health-care business together.

Schoolwork came first in their household. Jeffrey said if he earned anything less than A, he was going to hear about it. If his younger siblings earned less than A, he was going to hear about that too.

Now, Jeffrey said, he’s grateful for the tough love.

“They’re very serious about grades,” Jeffrey said, smiling. “I think that’s pretty much part of our culture.”

On the court, Jeffrey has fit into a key, if unheralded, role. The 6-foot-7, 215-pounder is averaging three points and three rebounds in 14 minutes per game, but he’s BG’s rim-protector off the bench. Huger said Jeffrey is the team’s most vocal defender, and usually anyone listening closely can hear him barking to his teammates on defense.

“When he gets in, it changes the complexion of the game and the pace of the game,” Huger said. “He brings that energy that’s much needed at certain points of the game. His numbers don’t reflect how important he really is to our team.”

It was a winding path to Division I for Jeffrey in the first place. He went to Virginia basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, junior colleges in Wyoming and Texas, and sustained an injury at BG.

He has played in all but two games the past two seasons and said fulfilling one of his life goals makes him hopeful for his life beyond basketball.

“That’s why I feel like I can flourish wherever I go, because I’ve been so many places by myself,” Jeffrey said. “If you put me in any position, I feel like I can flourish.”

The Falcons currently are 11-4 in the Mid-American Conference and in second place in the league with three regular-season games to go. But when the season ends, whenever that will be, Jeffrey will be done with basketball.

He plans to turn all of his focus on the Dental Admission Test later this summer instead of pursuing more time in basketball. A new calling awaits, but Jeffrey is embracing the rest of his time at BGSU first.

“It’s definitely going to be hard, and it hasn’t hit me yet even though senior night is on Friday,” Jeffrey said. “It’s coming to an end, but I’m just living in the moment and thanking basketball for all the things it’s done for me.”

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