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Harvard freshman big man is simply impressive

February 8, 2014 Columns No Comments

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Zena Edosomwan has a way of impressing you. The best thing about it can probably be best summed up by a teammate who has a little in common with him, and it doesn’t just apply to this context.

“When he gets in the game, he just plays, and I think he just does it naturally,” said junior guard Wesley Saunders, who like Edosomwan hails from California.

Edosomwan isn’t just impressive on the court. In fact, before Friday night, he hadn’t been very impressive on the court all that often, a reflection of adjusting to playing basketball at a higher level, a level where nothing was given to him and where he came in playing behind several veterans at his position. It’s not that he expected to come in, start and be dominant right away, but he was a highly-touted prospect that many feel could play at a higher level but chose the world-class education instead. He came into Friday night average 6.5 minutes per game, and had not appeared in five games.

Spend a few minutes with the 6’9″, 245-pound big man, and you’re not surprised that all he did as a result of the limited opportunities is just work harder and be a good teammate.

“He just kept working,” said Saunders, echoing a sentiment you hear throughout the team. “He’s been in the gym before and after practice. He didn’t let it get him down that he wasn’t playing that much, he just came and worked harder, and it’s definitely paying off.”

Added head coach Tommy Amaker: “He’s done a really nice job of putting extra time in, and I think that’s been a key component for his growth and development. I think his confidence is growing, which I think is as big as anything, and those things are being rewarded by solid production on the court.”

On Friday night, Edosomwan led Harvard with 12 points and grabbed five rebounds. Most of all, he came up big in the first half after Kyle Casey had to sit after a questionable call resulted in his second foul. They didn’t miss a beat as Edosomwan scored nine of his points and had all five rebounds in just seven minutes spelling Casey.

Edosomwan impresses you as a polished young man. He seemed at home talking with the media, just having a simple conversation as a fairly understated young man. While many players after a home game often just throw on some team gear before heading back to their residence halls, Edosomwan came in dressed better than most of the reporters he was talking to. That’s not an accident, as he apparently has a reputation for being fashionable. With a laugh, Saunders says he has quite a bow tie collection.

As much as anything, Edosomwan is a great teammate. He wants his team to win and has been, like sophomore Evan Cummins, a great example of how this team has taken the “next man up” mentality to a new level. Cummins, another high-character young man who went to the same prep school before coming to Harvard, played just 16 minutes in six games last season but was the same person all along. His turn has come this season and he has produced. Edosomwan has been the same way.

Before coming to Cambridge, Edosomwan did a prep year at Northfield Mount Hermon about two hours west of town. It gave him a year of being away from home and on the east coast, as he had already committed to Harvard at that time. His intangibles were off the charts, and that alone was sure to help him navigate his early college times as he came in behind proven post players Casey, Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith, who will end up playing just two minutes this season due to injury. He’s humble and has come to understand the game and his situation.

At Northfield Mount Hermon, he went up against several big men every day in practice. The team has a reputation for loading up on big men, and that included his one year there. In fact, he goes up against smaller guys now than he did there, but it’s different.

“To see my development from being a senior in high school to doing my post-grad year, I’ve just gotten used to bigger guys,” said Edosomwan. “The biggest thing now is that these guys are more physical.”

The physicality certainly stood out on Friday night, as the Crimson and Bears played a slugfest. Edosomwan and teammates had at it all night with Brown’s Rafael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah, with a lot of contact at both ends. While he was one of the youngest on the floor, he was one of the best players on it.

His teammates have helped him along the way to understand what he’s come to figure out. They remind him that he has a big body and has to use it. As his freshman year has gone along, he’s seen how talent alone doesn’t get you to the promised land. You can see his excitement in the progress and the potential, not unlike what teammates will tell you.

“I think Zena has great potential,” said Moundou-Missi. “He’s a hard worker. He’s always the last one in the gym, most of the time.”

The adjustment to college has had its bumps in the road, but it’s starting to come together for the young man. He’s understanding what it takes, from the value of using what he has all the way to preparation, and he constantly speaks of how supportive his teammates have been. In that respect, you see how he fits with this team, as the Crimson are full of high-character young men.

Even amongst that group, Edosomwan stands out. You can’t help but be impressed by him, and that’s before we even get to his play on the court. On this Friday night after an important game, he slipped out of being the intense big man and impressed off the court just as easily as he did on it. Or, as Saunders would probably put it, he did it all naturally.

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