Olalekan Ajayi is a sophomore center on the Eastern Michigan University basketball team who transferred from Collin College in Plano, Texas.
Ajayi was born in Lagos, Nigeria and lived there until he was 17, when he received a scholarship to attend the Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C.
He said he still loves Nigeria, but America has given him a lot of opportunities.
“The difference is America is the best country in the world,” Ajayi said. “In America, you have every facility. In Nigeria, you don’t.”
He added, “America is safer.”
Basketball, Ajayi said, was the stepping-stone to his leaving Nigeria for the United States.
Ajayi played soccer for most of his childhood, before making the switch to basketball.
“I grew out of soccer,” he told me.
Before earning his scholarship to Quality Education Academy, Ajayi participated in Basketball Without Borders in South Africa.
He told me the scholarship was a great opportunity for him.
“It’s something special,” Ajayi said. “In Nigeria, I couldn’t get a full scholarship for basketball.”
At Collin College, Ajayi said he had a good experience.
“My junior college experience was very nice,” he said. “I played a lot.”
Ajayi said his playing time helped him become more confident.
“The more you’re on the floor, the more comfortable you are,” he said.
Ajayi has appeared in nine games this season, averaging one point and 3.1 rebounds per game. His season-high came against Albion College on Nov. 4, scoring four points in 10 minutes.
Forward Karrington Ward, a fellow transfer, had good things to say about his teammate on the court.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Ward said. “He plays his role.”
Ajayi had a simple response for Ward’s praise.
“Whenever my name is called, I give my team what they need,” he said.
Off the court, Ward said Ajayi is a funny guy.
Ajayi had an answer for that, too.
“I’m a very honest and easygoing guy,” he said. “I go out of my way to make everyone happy.”
Ajayi said he is happy with the experience he’s had at EMU so far.
“The people are very nice people,” he said. “Students are very supportive.”
Ajayi likes to cook. He said he likes to make chicken or turkey wings, steak, fish and plantains.
He told me two or three different times how grateful he was for the opportunity to be here and how much he takes advantage of it on a daily basis.
“I’m lucky and happy to be here,” Ajayi said. “Everything we do in life is an opportunity. If you don’t take it, you miss it.”
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho