Rutgers center Cliff Omoruyi and guardian Muhammad Oliver share the basketball star's amazing journey from Nigeria to most likely the NBA
Rutgers University star center Cliff Omoruyi emigrated from Nigeria to New Jersey when he was 14. Now after his junior season, he could soon be playing in the NBA. His journey is one of the best stories in college basketball today.
Cliff's legal guardian Muhammad Oliver, who runs The Salvation Army Newark Westside Basketball Program, has been a father figure and mentor for Omoruyi from the day he arrived at the airport. Oliver, who had a mutual friend who knew Cliff's brother Alfred, took an interest in the athletic and promising young student. He had already been helping kids come to America. Muhammad and his wife have a large family of their own, but agreed to the best place for Cliff would be with the Olivers.
Cliff and Muhammad joined SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the future of the 6'11" dunking sensation who is already giving back to the Newark community and beyond.
Cliff Omoruyi's next step is unclear. He hasn't decided if he'll return to Rutgers for his senior season or jump to the NBA.
Before that part of his career begins, you have to think about what this young star had to go through.
He hasn't personally seen his mother since he left Nigeria and his father passed away while Cliff was in New Jersey.
"I think he's really going to be proud of me. I know he is looking down on me and he's happy to see what I've become."
Cliff stays in regular contact with his mom and family through his computer.
"I feel her love every time I talk to her. I have to thank technology for that."
His brother Alfred came to see him play on "senior night" at Roselle Catholic High School where Cliff became a highly recruited basketball superstar.
"It meant a lot. It had been four years since I had seen him. It was a great experience. I shed a lot of years."
Muhammad Oliver arranged that beautiful reunion that evening.
Oliver remembers Cliff wanting to go the park to play basketball the second day he was in New Jersey. But he knew Muhammad had a lot of work to do if he wanted to play hoops at a high level.
"There's reason why only one percent of players become pros. It takes that dedication. Seeing his academic dedication gave me a glimpse of what his work ethic would be like. I knew I was going to be able to work with him so I felt like that would be a match made in heaven."
Muhammad eventually got Cliff involved in The Salvation Army Newark Westside Basketball program. Cliff was a natural athlete with an incredible ability to jump. His basketball skills continued to improve through his teenage years.
Impressed with what Rutgers University and head coach Steve Pikiell had to offer, Omoruyi decided to stay close to home and play for the Scarlet Knights.
Omoruyi and his teammates brought immediate Big Ten respect to fans, alumni and the college basketball world.
Muhammad Oliver is obviously Cliff's biggest fan.
"If I see him do something that I saw him do early, I'm happy he finally did it in the game. When he's successful, I'm even happier. If he's having a bad day, I'm still happy because I'm thinking about where he's at as compared to where he started."
The Oliver family is as close as ever.
"With my kids and Cliff, you can't really tell the difference. You would think that my wife had Cliff. My younger ones, you can't tell them he isn't their brother. The older ones the relationship is great. Cliff is such a good kid. My oldest son is in high school. Some how, some way, with Cliff's busy schedule, he's made it to come and support his games this year. For me, I had a son in middle school playing basketball, son in high school and then Cliff in college, my schedule was crazy, but Cliff still made it with his big schedule to see my boys play. Every time he came they performed for him."
Cliff's studies at Rutgers are still important to him.
"At first I was going into Engineering, but due to my schedule with basketball, I switched to Information Technologies. I thought that would be a good major for me. I just love technology."
Though Rutgers fell short of making the NCAA Basketball Tournament this year, and lost to Hofstra in overtime in the first round, Cliff had a tremendous junior season.
He was named one of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award (given to the nation's best center). Cliff is also
climbing RU's all-time leaderboard for career blocks and among all-time leaders in field goal percentage.
Omoruyi has also gained national attention for his tremendous blocks and dunking abilities. Now he hopes he'll eventually bring those highlight reels to the NBA. That will be a special day for Cliff's family in New Jersey and Nigeria. to give back to his community.
Cliff, who has become a leader on and off the court, has already given thousands of dollars to get equipment for Salvation Army Westside Basketball, an in-house league and travel program starting at six years old through senior high school.
"Like the Bible says, 'Give and it shall be given unto you', that's one of my favorite verses."
That spirit of giving and philanthropy has impressed many people, including Muhammad Oliver.
"Personally, I believe in life lessons through sports. Basketball was just the sport that I love. The beautiful thing about him being in America for so long is that he's basically like a dual citizen right now. If he's blessed with the opportunity to be a pro in the NBA, that's going to open so many doors for back home in Nigeria and Benin City. Having a guy like Cliff come from there, it automatically comes with a responsibility to give back. As we can already see, he's that person. I just foresee him and his family creating a foundation and being heavily involved in the development of education and sports in Nigeria, just like he is here in Newark."
If you are wondering if Cliff has a favorite NBA team? He doesn't right now.
"I'm just a basketball fan in general. At first, I used to root for the Lakers. I really just follow college basketball right now."
You can SEE the entire SportsJam interview with Cliff Omoruyi and Muhammad Oliver here.