He laid there in a hospital bed made for someone that is a foot shorter than him. Confused and scared but brave and resolute, Elochukwu Eze awaited the next step.
The doctors were about to cut into his head and attempt to remove the cancer from his brain. Just four days prior, he was your average teenage kid with a not so average story. The 6-foot-9 native of Nigeria came to the United States to play basketball.
And maybe, just maybe, he’d be good enough to impress someone enough to earn a scholarship to an American university. But the headaches came on strong. So strong, in fact, he couldn’t ignore it any longer.
“I was brushing it off,” he said. Because that’s what big, strong athletes do, right?
Eze said he had a headache that lasted for four days.
“I thought it was a normal headache from practice or workout. But the day after that, I fell so unconscious. I couldn't remember what happened," he said. "The only thing that I could remember is being in the hospital and waking up and my dad telling me I have to have a brain surgery that night.”
On May 5, 2016, Eze was diagnosed with brain cancer. That isn’t easy news for anyone to hear. It especially isn’t easy for a teenager a world away from his blood family. Imagine the fear. Imagine the confusion. Imagine the quiet moments.
That’s when he laid there on that hospital bed, eyes closed and the silence of wonder about what was about to happen. This mountain of a man in an oversized teenage body was at the mercy of steady hands of trained surgeons and hope from the Divine.
Eze had the surgery. That was the easy part. For several weeks after going under the knife to remove the cancer, Eze had to dig a little deeper and find the strength to push forward. The little things became hard. The process of just walking or talking was difficult.
“But I wasn't giving up,” Eze said.
And he never did. Eze worked and pushed forward and tapped into the inner most workings of his strength. He was going to beat this, he’d tell himself.
That was a year ago and the 17-year-old from Nigeria still can’t believe that he was standing within view of dozens of college coaches that were there to see him play basketball.
Eze played well, at times, for Florida Elite at the HoopSeen Atlanta Jam. He was one of the best big men in the tournament and caught the attention of big man-seeking college coaches.
A year ago, he wasn’t sure if he’d even have a tomorrow. Everything in Eze’s perspective has changed.
“The experience is about life. I see life in a different perspective now. Everything matters now,” he said. “You have to be grateful for everything you get. You have to push harder and do the best that I can no matter what. Like church, like school, like if I get a job tomorrow or go to college. I have to keep pushing.”
Recruiting? Please. That’s not the priority right now. If that is meant to be, it will happen. But for now, Eze said he’s trying to soak everything in.
“You only live once,” he said with a smile and confidence. “Every single day matters.”