“Basketball is my passion — it’s what I love doing,” reports ninth grader Richard Nweke.
Richard is 6’7,” naturally athletic, and is an exceptional basketball player. He’s a forward who regularly dunks with ease and is often the highest-scoring player on the court. You might guess that he’s been playing ball since early childhood, but he only decided to give it a shot two years ago.
“Over one summer, I grew from 6’0” to 6’4” or 5.” That was a lot!” Richard laughs. Friends and family immediately encouraged him to try basketball, a departure from his childhood sport of choice, soccer.
Originally from Nigeria, Richard recalls, “The first time I played, I went to a park on a Saturday and joined some people playing [pickup].” The adults teased him because he didn’t yet have the skills to play well, despite his advantageous height. He returned home discouraged, but his mother provided valuable perspective — “These guys have been playing for so long and you just started!” — and encouragement to brush the experience off and continue with his newfound passion.
“I started practicing basketball and working out every single day, morning and night, to make up for the years that I lost. [Even now], I’m playing against guys who have been playing all of their lives,” Richard explains. “I have the athletic talent, but I need to be able to apply it to basketball. I need to improve my skills. I have a lot of work to do.”
Richard’s coach, Dave Brown ’97, knows he’s up for the challenge and says, “Aside from being blessed with God-given athleticism and strength, Richard possesses the two most important skills to be successful in basketball: a tenacious work ethic and a sincere interest in learning how to be better.”
He’s certainly putting in the work! Richard practices roughly five hours per day. He played on Dwight’s Boys Varsity basketball team during the regular season, as well as on an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team. He also participated in Nike’s training camp last summer and will play in Adidas’ camp this time around.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years, as Richard moved to New York — which, he emphasizes, is completely different from Nigeria — and began playing basketball almost nonstop at a prestigious level. The transition wasn’t easy, but Richard approaches these major life changes philosophically. “You just make good of what you get — of every opportunity,” he says.
As a new Dwight student this year, Richard shares that he is still adapting, but his peers have helped. “People are really nice here — they’re really welcoming — and the community is really diverse!”
Richard adds that he has a good relationship with all of his Dwight Lion teammates and was thrilled by their success, winning the ACIS League Championship for the third year in a row.
A deeply competitive person who doesn’t shy away from taking the lead, Richard shares that his most memorable moment during the year was scoring 30 points against rival Berkeley Carroll. Dwight was behind by 20 in the third quarter and he helped the team recover and eventually win in overtime. Richard describes the scene: “We just started making baskets and they were getting nervous and couldn’t do anything because we were playing together and playing hard. I really felt good about myself and the whole team — we deserved to win!”
The competitiveness, Richard shares, is what he loves most about basketball. He also enjoys the teamwork, explaining that on the court, you often find yourself in a position where everyone is relying on you. “I like that pressure,” he says. “I want to score every single time!”
Richard’s competitive nature extends into the classroom, where his favorite subject is math. “I like solving problems and it feels good when you have the answer. I’m not the best in the class, but math is competitive,” he explains. “You have to answer the question to be noticed; you can’t just sit there quietly or the teacher will wonder what’s going on!”
Richard obviously has a bright future on the court, should he choose to pursue it. As a freshman, he knows that his career aspirations may change over time, but he wants to play college ball and shares that his favorite NBA team is the Philadelphia 76ers “because of just one person: Ben Simmons,” Richard explains. “He’s a rookie. He just got into the NBA a couple of years ago, he’s like 6’10,” and he’s so good. Ben is someone I want to play with!”
Basketball, however, is not Richard’s only spark of genius. “I’m a technical guy and I really like technical drawing. I’ve taken some classes and done well with it,” he says. Someday, Richard might like to be a civil engineer. He finds the structural speciality fascinating, and potentially aspires to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, who is an architect.
No matter what Richard chooses to pursue — basketball, civil engineering, or both — we’re sure that his sparks of genius will continue shining brightly throughout his journey at Dwight and far beyond!
Photo credit: Matthew Gilbertson