The life behind a Division I basketball player is never one fully understood by someone other than the athletes themselves. For most observers, the athletes are defined by their athletic ability and the performance they put on the court every game.
Not many hear about the life of the athlete off the court and the adjustments they must make in order to live a college life along with life of an athlete. For Roland Nyama, this involved making adjustments for a multitude of things including leaving home to come to America, finding a college and making it onto a Division I team.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Nyama grew up playing basketball in the home country of one of his idols, Dirk Nowitzki. Throughout his childhood, Nyama would watch college basketball’s NCAA Tournament and dream of one day being a part of it.
“When I was younger and just started playing basketball, I had told my mom how I wanted to play college basketball because I had watched March Madness and it looked really cool,” Nyama recounted, “She reminded me of that one dream I had of playing college basketball.”
To fulfill that dream, Nyama’s mother encouraged him to go to America and seek out a university to play for. This way, he could pursue an education and play college basketball, something that is very difficult in Germany.
Nyama would end up coming to America, playing at both Holderness School in New Hampshire and with the Westchester Hawks, part of the AAU. At Holderness, Nyama was a teammate of current Stony Brook forward Scott King. It was there they developed a friendship ultimately leading to Stony Brook’s interest in Nyama.
During Nyama’s time with the Westchester Hawks, former Holderness teammate King suggested Stony Brook take a look at Nyama. Taking his advice, Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell attended one of Nyama’s games in Philadelphia. Pikiell and the Stony Brook basketball staff were impressed enough that Pikiell approached Nyama and expressed his interest in him.
“Coach Pikiell told me he wasn’t here to recruit me, he was here to coach me. It was really different,” Nyama said. “All the other coaches were giving me letters about how great their facilities were. Coach Pikiell just came up to me and was like ‘I’m here to coach you, you may not always love me but I’m here to coach you, I’ll be honest with you,’ and that really stuck out.”
The honest approach was the best approach for Nyama, as he decided on Stony Brook even though he received offers from other D-I schools, like Robert Morris, New Hampshire and Central Connecticut State.
Since the day Nyama signed to play at Stony Brook, he felt comfortable he was making the right choice. His first year would be a redshirt year in which he would have time to adjust to college life and the responsibilities of a Division I athlete.
“It benefited me in terms of getting to know what I was getting myself into. I learned to get my homework done before practice, talk to my teachers about traveling and hand in everything on time,” Nyama said, “I’ve learned to assimilate to the life of a D1 athlete, take care of my body and get stronger.”
As for many anxious freshmen athletes, a redshirt year may be looked at as a bad thing, but Nyama looks back and embraces the redshirt year. He credits it with giving him the chance to make connections outside of basketball and allowing him to mature as a person.
With his redshirt year now behind him, Nyama looks to help the team in a big way. You can look for No. 24 on the court come mid-November, as he is sure to get significant playing time.
Nyama said he enjoys watching another No. 24, Kobe Bryant, because of his ability to contribute in multiple aspects of the game. Bryant’s versatility is something Nyama looks to bring in his own game every time he walks on the court.
“I can just do a little bit of everything,” Nyama said. “Score a little, pass a little, defend.”
Not only can Nyama help the team on the court with his athleticism and ability to facilitate, but he also has a way about him that can one day help him grow into a leader. Never a dull moment, Nyama has a great personality and is someone who is fun to be around.
When asked what he likes to do outside of basketball, Nyama expressed his passion for reading books, specifically Harry Potter. Being a linguistics major, it was only fitting he would read the series in English, French and German multiple times. He also enjoys testing his FIFA skills against teammate Bryan Sekunda.
“I’m kind of an undercover nerd; I like Harry Potter a lot, I’ve read every Harry Potter there is,” Nyama said. “And FIFA 15 is the greatest game on this planet, also the most frustrating game. I play it a lot with my friend Bryan Sekunda. He always beats me.”
When the video games are over and books read, Nyama works towards guiding Sekunda and the other young Stony Brook players. Nyama understands some of the difficulties with being a freshman athlete and tries to lead them through the adjustments that come with the territory. Using both his own experience and the help he received from other mentor-like figures, he hopes to become a leader on and off the court.
Nyama also acknowledges the recent history of Stony Brook’s basketball program and sees how motivated the team is to make the NCAA tournament this year. He notes how the group of guys they have this year is a closer team than he has ever been a part of.
“I’m aware of the struggles, but this year I feel like we can make it because everybody is hungry and we’re a good group of people. We all get along,” Nyama said, “I’ve never been on a team that’s so tight.”
After recent years when talented teams have come and gone, it seems Nyama and company are filled with optimism and enthusiasm regarding the year ahead and the team Stony Brook has assembled, confident that they can finally accomplish what no other Stony Brook team has done: reach their first-ever NCAA tournament bid. It will take a full season’s worth of effort, but given the talent and balance of both hunger and composure, Stony Brook should be a name we hear when March Madness talks begin.