Emmanuel Chibuogwu wants people to know there's more to him than basketball.
“I mean, you can probably assume I play sports since I'm 6-7,” Chibuogwu said with a laugh. “But I think there's more to me than basketball and school. At the surface level that's what people see though.”
The redshirt senior on the Seattle U men's basketball team didn't start with basketball as his primary sport.
“My parents are Nigerian, and around the world, soccer is a big thing and in Nigeria it's big as well,” Chibuogwu said. “Growing up, one of my friends played soccer, so I just started playing with him.”
Chibuogwu played soccer from first through third grade, and liked it. He was athletic and found he was pretty good at the sport.
But he was tall. So tall for his age that other parents thought he was too old to play on the team.
“What made me stop playing was people used to always ask my mom to bring my birth certificate to the games, and it just used to annoy me,” Chibuogwu said.
So soccer quickly ran its course, and he started playing basketball around the age of 10 just for fun.
In sixth grade, he started taking it more seriously.
Ted Hammond, a former Redhawk baseball player, went to the same elementary school as Chibuogwu. It was Hammond's dad who convinced Chibuogwu to start playing on his basketball team.
“He was like, ‘hey, you should play on Ted's team. We're short a couple guys and you're tall, you'll probably be good at it',” Chibuogwu recalls. “I started playing and I ended up being really good, so I started taking it seriously.”
The sport also began to mean more to Chibuogwu as he grew older.
“For me and all my friends, it became a way for us to stay out of trouble and just be actively doing something that was positive in our lives,” Chibuogwu said. “I think at that point I realized it was a good thing for me.”
Chibuogwu, a product of Shorecrest High School, always knew he wanted to stay in the Seattle area for college. He loves the city, loves the weather and loves being close to his mom and three sisters.
“Staying close to family was an important part of the decision process,” Chibuogwu said.
During high school, Chibuogwu took a college prep class, which allowed him to visit a couple colleges in the area. In that time, he was able to tour Seattle U, and was instantly hooked.
“I remember walking through campus and thinking it was so cool,” Chibuogwu said. “I remember being with my friends and saying, ‘this school is so cool, I want to go here,' and I was telling them I was getting recruited here and that it'd be my dream to come here.”
The school, Chibuogwu recalls, just felt like a good fit.
He admits that he didn't like going out of his comfort zone, so finding somewhere “homey” was important.
“I just felt so at home here,” Chibuogwu said. “I could just really see myself being here not just for basketball, but as a student too. It was good to have the chance to push myself academically here. I thought it would set me up for a good future.”
Chibuogwu has spent his time, especially in his last couple years, trying to help break stereotypes of collegiate men's basketball players.
He knows that being part of a team that gets more attention means that good and bad publicity comes with it.
He also knows that part of college is navigating stereotypes.
“You get a lot of situations like that in college, which is what I think is the great part about it,” Chibuogwu said. “You meet a lot of people who aren't like you. They don't look like you, act like you, talk like you, dress like you. But then you get to talk to them, and you see they're not as different from you as you thought.”
Chibuogwu doesn't mind others defining him as an athlete, but it's not necessarily how he identifies himself.
In fact, when he meets new people, the last thing he tells them is that he plays basketball. Because he's been an athlete his entire life, he said that at a certain point, he wants to be seen as someone else.
“People treat you differently whether it's good or bad if you're an athlete, and I feel like sometimes athletes can get away with not being articulate or intellectual, and I don't want to be like that,” Chibuogwu said.
He wants people to see that he's a nice person, that he can be funny “here and there” and that he's a curious person who just likes to learn.
“All those things carry more weight in society than being an athlete,” Chibuogwu said. But then, he quickly corrected himself. “Well, no, they should carry more weight but they probably don't.”
Chibuogwu clarifies that he doesn't mind being seen as a basketball player. That's who he is, after all. But he wants to be recognized for the other things he's made of.
He has a lot of goals for himself. He wants to coach and work with youth to help give young people guidance in their lives.
“If someone saw me and all they thought was I'm good at basketball, I don't feel like that's good on my part because I feel like I have more to offer than that,” Chibuogwu said. “I like to think I'm a good person. I really like working with kids and being a mentor. I would like to be seen as that.”
Chibuogwu admits that in his first three years at Seattle U, he let basketball consume him. He let his sport be his excuse to not do a lot of things with others.
He offers a piece of advice to people who still have time left in college: “Don't be like me and wait until the last minute. Go make friends with a random student, because you never know. It doesn't hurt, and more often than not you'll be happy you did it.”
In his last two years, Chibuogwu took his own advice and tried to go out of his way to have as many friends from different backgrounds and interests.
He hopes it will help him be remembered as a friendly person, helping break the stereotype of a men's basketball player.
Chiguogwu said it would've been easy to have a “this is who I am, take it or leave it” attitude. But he figured out that it was in his best interest to be open and build relationships while in college.
“I want to be remembered as breaking the stereotype of a student-athlete, a men's basketball player, at Seattle University,” Chibougwu said.