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ROSELLE, New Jersey — If Cliff Omoruyi ever develops a consistent jump shot, look out. He may become unstoppable.
As it stands now, the 6-foot-11, 237-pound junior big man from Roselle (N.J.) Catholic prefers to dunk, dunk and dunk some more—almost always two-handed.
“I feel comfortable [shooting], but dunking is more 100 percent to me,” said Omoruyi, who has a 7-foot-6 wingspan. “The jump shot is 50/50, so I just dunk the ball. That is the quick way.”
On Tuesday night, the native of Benin City, Nigeria, flushed about half a dozen two-handed dunks as the Lions beat Hudson Catholic, 66-54, to advance to Wednesday night’s New Jersey North Non-Public B sectional final against Gill St. Bernard’s. With two Seton Hall assistants watching, he finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in the win.
Omoruyi has only been playing basketball for about two years and says, “Everything is new to me.”
“When he first came [to the U.S.], he tried to dunk from the free-throw line outside at Weequahic Park,” said Omoruyi’s guardian, Muhammad Oliver. “He got hung up and he fell and I was like, ‘Hold up, not yet. Your insurance [didn't] kick in yet. Relax.’”
Those around Omoruyi say he has the makings of a face-up game, which should frighten opposing defenses. They won't know whether to guard him 10 or 12 feet from the basket, risking the chance that he’ll spin past a defender and dunk on him, or play off him and hope for the best near the bucket.
“He has a nice touch but needs to work on the J,” Roselle Catholic assistant Tommy Sacks said.
“I can shoot it mid-range but I don’t take the shot,” Omoruyi said. “I just pass the ball, get the assist and go for the rebound.”
He added: “I'll work on it. During AAU [with the NY Lightning], I will get more confidence and work on it.”
As his game progresses, Omoruyi, who has drawn comparisons to Clint Capela and a young Amar’e Stoudemire, has piled up scholarship offers from Syracuse, West Virginia, UMass, Rutgers, Seton Hall, UConn, NC State, Cincinnati, Miami, Virginia, Xavier, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky, Butler, UCLA, Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, South Carolina and Pittsburgh.
“All schools say the same thing,” Omoruyi said. “I’m a priority to them. I can block shots, rebound.”
“Since June 15, when they could reach out to him, he’s been getting a lot of calls,” Oliver said. “The people that have reached out for constant contact are Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, West Virginia, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Auburn, Connecticut. Most recently, Arizona State reached out.”
Omoruyi attended a UConn game over the weekend and met Ray Allen. He will take other visits going forward.
“My thing is, anytime we’re near a school that’s recruiting him, I try to take him over there,” his guardian said. “You have to remember, Cliff’s very new to the process. When he first came, he liked [Division III] Kean College. So I try to take him to see all the schools so he knows what’s out there.”
His guardian said Omoruyi wants to commit on his birthday, Oct. 11, but that he may have to wait until the spring of 2020 to understand all his options.
“I keep telling him, if it picks up and you have more options, then you gotta give yourself more time,” Oliver said. “But right now he’s just having fun, filling out the process.”
Born in Nigeria, Omoruyi played a little bit of basketball there, and then, like many tall young men from Africa, came to the U.S. to seek a better life through basketball. He arrived in August 2016.
“As he hit his growth spurt, a lot of people were trying to get him to come over so once his brother [who’s now in Sweden] saw what was going on, he reached out to me and asked if I would take him so they’re not just sending him to anybody,” his guardian said.
After stops at Queen of Peace High School (which closed) and Montclair Immaculate in New Jersey, he landed at Roselle Catholic, where he lives nearby with Oliver and his family.
“Honestly, the basketball is great,” Oliver said. “Cliff is more of an academic kid so it’s hard to juggle it at times. When he first got here, he got lost some times because it;s so big, it’s so popular.”
He’s now the perfect complement to Kentucky-bound wing Kahlil Whitney, UNLV-bound point guard Josh Pierre-Louis and the rest of the Lions. No other team in New Jersey has an inside presence that can compete with Omoruyi, who is a force in the paint rebounding, dunking and blocking shots. He moves very well for a big man, too.
Omoruyi and his teammates entered Wednesday one win from a state sectional title, two victories from a state crown and four from repeating as New Jersey Tournament of Champions winners.
“In order to win, we gotta play as a team,” Omoruyi said, “do everything as a team.”