Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Clemson Edomwonyin didn’t pick up a basketball until he was nearly old enough to drive.
Born in Spain and a resident of East London from the time he was seven years old, Edomwoyin decided to give it a try after his first love, soccer, didn’t pan out. Already north of 6-foot-5 with long arms and good bounce, a sport built around height and athleticism seemed to be a good match. Until he tried it.
“First time touching a ball was probably the worst thing you could ever imagine,” he said. “It was pretty hard — I couldn’t layup, I couldn’t even dunk, to be honest.”
Clemson Edomwonyin (above) committed to Drexel last week. (Photo courtesy South Kent communications)
Fortunately, Edomwonyin stuck with it, spurred along by the help of some encouraging coaches in England, then came over to the United States for a postgraduate season at South Kent (Conn.). And just a few years after that hoops journey started, Edomwonyin decided his next step was in Philadelphia, as he committed to Drexel on Friday afternoon, picking the Dragons over Fordham and a group of other Division I offers.
“It’s amazing, just the feeling I got when I finally knew I made the right decision,” he told CoBL. “Being able to get here so quickly has been a blessing, it’s just been a dream.”
Like many other youngsters around the globe, Edomwonyin grew up obsessed with soccer, a sport he knew first as fútbol and then as football, when he moved with his mother Noghayin Edomwonyin and his older sister (by one year) Destiny from Spain to England. Though he lived not far from the West Ham Football Club, he became a devoted Chelsea fan, hoping to find his own stardom on the pitch.
When Edomwonyin was 15 years old, the club soccer team he’d been playing for let him go. The athletic youngster, unsure of what to do next, was going into his final year of secondary school at Brentwood, also known as Year 11, the British equivalent of the American 10th grade.
It was Brentwood coach Greg Nagle who convinced Edomwonyin to give basketball a try; as rough as that first go was, Edomwonyin wasn’t going to just give up that easily. Unfortunately, that year was the COVID year (2020-21) — so, as Edomwonyin put it, “I played a lot more park basketball than court basketball.”
He progressed enough that first year anyways to want to continue playing, and found himself looking at the City of London Academy and its basketball program, run by Jay Williams and Jackson Gibbons.
“After that, that’s when everything really started working out,” he said. “I could be in the gym more, have a lot more guidance and expertise, that’s what really developed my game; being guided by two such great coaches really helped me.”
He spent two years at CoLA, working on his game while his body kept growing, getting up close to his current 6-10 frame. After earning most improved honors in the league, he earned a selection to the 2023 HoopsFix All-Star Classic last May. By that point, Division I coaches had picked up on him, with a few trying to get him on campus for this season, but he didn’t feel ready. Instead, he looked into a post-graduate year in the States, Gibbons connecting him with South Kent head coach Raphael Chillious, and Edomwonyin was sold.
At South Kent, he got the chance to play in the high-level New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), the best prep school hoops league in the country. Chillious, who’d previously coached at South Kent from 2003-08, has experience as a Division I coach at Washington, Villanova, UConn and East Carolina before returning to South Kent in 2020; he’d been tracking Edomwonyin during his time at CoLA, and was excited to work with the young post.
“There was so much about the game that he just doesn’t know, that he’s learning every single day,” Chillious said, “but he’s picking it up like a sponge and he asks questions when he doesn’t understand.”
“Coming here to playing [in the] NEPSAC, it took a while to transition,” Edomwonyin said. “It wasn’t easy, but it was bearable to keep up with it. It took a while, but I’m used to it now.
“This year has helped a lot with my progression in terms of my maturity, having a stronger core, having more moves, being more decisive, and having more confidence in my game overall.”
It was in his first week in the States that Edomwonyin met Drexel head coach Zach Spiker, who’d come to South Kent to watch an open gym. Edomwonyin understandably had never heard of Drexel University, never been to Philadelphia, but he was in University City by the end of the month.
“I really liked what I saw, in terms of the training, the people as well, they have some great people over there,” he said. “The strength of the program — they’re a great program, they’re not just a good team. There were a lot of confidence points from them.
“I just liked the overall place — Philly as a city, Drexel as a school, I just liked a lot of things.”
It certainly didn’t hurt Drexel’s chances that the Dragons currently feature senior forward Amari Williams, a British post player who’s taken great strides during his four years at 34th and Market, under assistant coach Paul Fortier. Williams arrived at Drexel too raw to play more than a few minutes per game as a freshman; this year, he was the preseason CAA Player of the Year and is averaging 13.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 2.0 bpg over the last two years.
“Amari was so raw when they first got him, and I think he’s along the same trajectory,” Chillious said. “I think in that sense, Paul Fortier’s going to be really good for him.”
Edomwonyin’s joining a Drexel program having its best year yet in Spiker’s eighth season, the Dragons currently sitting atop the CAA standings with a 15-7 (8-1) record, on pace for their best season in over a decade. Williams will have a chance to return for a fifth year next season if he wants; junior forward Garfield Turner and redshirt freshman Cole Hargrove are also slated to return from this year’s roster.
One word heard multiple times in phone calls discussing Edomwonyin is “hardworking,” the main reason (along with his inherent physical traits) that he was able to go from never playing basketball to being a legitimate Division I prospect in less than three years’ time.
“I feel like coming in, I just want to be energetic,” he said. “I want to sprint and I want to block shots, I want to block everything, dunk everything. That’s where my mindset’s at.”
Where does that come from?
“I feel like I’m just passionate in general, I’m a passionate person in general,” he said. “All of that stems from my mom, if she wasn’t my person, there was no motor, she’s really a role model in my life. She works really hard, she works really hard, she’s got two kids by herself, she’s had to make a lot of sacrifices to make sure we eat.”
In addition to his love for soccer, Edomwonyin said he’s a big anime fan, and loves to eat; he said he can’t wait to explore Philly’s food scene.
And the major Chelsea fan said he’d have no problem rooting for the Union as his MLS side.
“I play for Philly now,” he said. “That’s my team, it goes hand in hand.”