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WC star Ezekwe to play college ball at VMI

[6/21/03]Chi Chi Ezekwe never took an official visit to his new school. He’s never met his new coach in person. Yet the Warren Central graduate and the coaching staff at the Virginia Military Institute are certain they’ll be a perfect fit for each other.

Ezekwe, a two-time Vicksburg Post all-county selection who averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds for WC last season, has signed to play basketball at VMI next fall.

Ezekwe is the first Warren County boys player to sign with a Division I college straight out of high school since Vicksburg High’s Quentin Smith signed with Mississippi State in 1996. Former Porters Chapel Academy standout Brandon Carr also played at Mississippi State, but was a walk-on.

Ezekwe’s family has a rich athletic background. His brother, Item Ezekwe, played football at Mississippi State, and two other brothers ran track on the college level.

One of his siblings, Obi, was an All-Southern Conference runner for VMI and told his former coach about Chi Chi. VMI track coach Mike Bozeman then passed the word along to basketball coach Bart Bellairs, and Bellairs obtained Ezekwe’s highlight tape.

The VMI coaching staff liked what they saw and offered Chi Chi Ezekwe a basketball scholarship.

“We always follow up on everything, whether it’s a dead end or not, and once we got the tape we started liking him,” Bellairs said. “He does a lot of things well. He’s very athletic, but I like the way he can finish with his left hand.”

Ezekwe had visited the Lexington, Va., campus before to watch Obi run and didn’t feel the need to go again. He liked the campus, and jumped at the chance to play Division I basketball.

“It was looking like I wasn’t about to get it, but they called at the last minute,” said Ezekwe, who was ready to sign with Mississippi Delta Community College when the offer came from VMI.

Ezekwe played center in high school, but will move to small forward in college. At 6-foot-6, Ezekwe was the Vikings’ tallest player last season. That forced him to play inside, where he was a defensive presence and displayed a formidable power game.

Ezekwe averaged 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks as a junior in 2001-02, but continued to develop in his senior season. He showed an ability to hit mid-range jumpers and the occasional 3-pointer, making him a perfect fit at small forward on the next level.

“I asked (WC) coach (Preston) Wilson, but it never happened during the season,” Ezekwe said of playing small forward. “I’ve been working on my dribble, and I still need to get my shot a little bit better.”

Bellairs said Ezekwe will also get an opportunity to play next season. The Keydets utilize an up-tempo style, forcing them to dig deep into their bench. Their first season together will be a learning period for both player and coach.

Although he didn’t hesitate to sign Ezekwe, Bellairs still has not seen him play in person. The first time the two actually meet face-to-face will be at a tournament in Louisiana later this summer.

“He never came here to officially visit, and I think that’s the first player I’ve ever had that never came to visit,” Bellairs said. “I’ve signed players before just from watching tape, but none that haven’t visited.”

Ezekwe was looking forward to meeting Bellairs, and also knew what to expect at VMI. The school is the nation’s oldest state-supported military college, and trains its cadets with a demanding regimen similar to the service academies.

After graduation, cadets can receive an officer’s commission in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Ezekwe, who plans to major in computer science, said he wasn’t interested in a military career.

“I think it’ll be pretty demanding, but my brother said if he can do it, I can do it,” Ezekwe said. “It’ll probably be harder than a regular college, though.”