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A Gift For Himself, To Others

Feb 19, 2021

From the time he was a young boy, growing up just outside Toronto, Eugene Omoruyi made it a goal to give back.

Born in Nigeria before moving to Canada as a toddler, Omoruyi regularly visited his home country as a boy. He saw the way Nigerians celebrated values like family and education; he saw as well the poverty that was all too common for kids in Benin City, the metropolis where he was born.

So as Omoruyi began to blossom into a budding star on the basketball court, his dreams of helping folks back home blossomed as well. Like most kids who grow up around a ball and a hoop, he wanted to eventually play in the NBA. He wanted to play in big games, and sign big contracts — all so he could make a big impact on his countrymen back home.

"I had a goal written down in my room that I could get to the NBA," Omoruyi said. "And then the money I'd make, I'd send it back and help those in need, and then get my friends involved also. That's been the path I've been on since I was young."

Omoruyi, a senior on the Oregon men's basketball team, got a head start on fulfilling that goal earlier this month. For his birthday, which happens to fall on Valentine's Day, he told his family to skip buying gifts for him, and instead donate money in his name to a non-profit working to eradicate poverty in and around Benin City.

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The donation, via family friends who run the non-profit Godsent Foundation, was used to provide food, clothing and other essentials to local children, and was delivered on behalf of Omoruyi in Benin City last weekend.

"That's where I come from, and that's where my family's from," said Omoruyi, had 13 points in Oregon's win Thursday over Colorado, and leads the Ducks with 17.5 points per game. "So giving back is a special thing for me."

Omoruyi moved away from Benin City when he was around a year old. His mother — pregnant at the time with one of his sisters — moved to the Toronto area first, and earned her nursing license. His father arrived later, and before long Omoruyi had another baby sister.

Over the years, Omoruyi's parents became fluent in English. But at home they spoke Edo, the language of Edo State, Nigeria, where Benin City is located.

Beginning when Omoruyi was in grammar school, the family would return every couple of years to Benin City. They would be showered with affection by aunts, uncles and cousins, and they would bathe in local customs and traditions.

"We would try local foods, go to local markets, walk around — just trying to experience what my parents went through," Omoruyi said. "Really experience our culture, and learn things that we didn't know before."

Omoruyi's extended family both back in Toronto — which has a robust community of immigrants from Benin City — and in Nigeria follows his progress on the basketball court.

They're rooting for him to succeed. And they're counting on him not forgetting his roots.

"In Nigeria we pride ourselves on culture," Omoruyi said. "School, number one. Being responsible. And, no matter how big you are, always coming back and still remaining the same, and giving back to those who are not as fortunate as you."

Since he was a young boy, that was Omoruyi's goal. His dreams of reaching the NBA will have to wait a little while longer. But as of last week, his dream of giving back to the people of his home country is a reality.