Iowa freshman basketball player Josh Ogundele stuck in England due to COVID-19, uncertainty over F-1 Visa situation
While his Hawkeye teammates workout in Iowa City, Josh Ogundele can only sit in his parents’ East London home wondering when he will get to embark on his college basketball career.
Ogundele, a prized freshman recruit for Fran McCaffery’s Iowa team, has spent months in limbo while the coronavirus pandemic closed borders and deprived him, so far, of the opportunity he’s been chasing ever since a growth spurt at age 12 eventually pushed him to 6-foot-11.
"I’ve only been on campus once, for 48 hours. It’s just frustrating that everyone on my team is there right now and they’re not allowing me to come back,” Ogundele told the Register on Wednesday.
"For all I know tonight, (U.S. President) Donald Trump could be like, ‘OK I’m going to let them in. You can have a Visa.’ But it could be next month. It could be next year.”
Ogundele, 19, came to America in 2017 to play basketball at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. He wanted to test himself against better competition than he could find in his native England. He wanted to be seen by college scouts.
It wasn’t that big of a stretch to be so far from home. Ogundele had moved to the countryside in Norfolk, England, to attend Wymondham College boarding school at age 11. There, his favorite sport was initially rugby, where his size and power made him a natural at the “lock” positions.
Basketball took hold of his life when he sprouted up to 6-5 by age 14. He knew then he would either come to America or venture to Spain in order to reach his peak in that sport.
Ogundele’s mother, Angela, and stepfather, Ojay, were supportive. He visited England two or three times a year while attending Worcester Academy. His parents, in turn, flew to America to accompany Ogundele on all three of his college recruiting visits, starting with that lone weekend in Iowa and including Rhode Island and Cincinnati. Ogundele committed to the Hawkeyes in November, before COVID-19 became a household term.
Ogundele flew home to London on April 25, intending for it to be one last visit before he came back June 8 to join an incoming class of Hawkeye freshmen basketball players that he’s never met. He still has not met twin brothers Keegan and Kris Murray, Tony Perkins or Ahron Ulis. Ogundele speaks often with his coaches, but struggles to feel like he’s really part of this team without actually being in Iowa.
“I don’t really know what’s going on. I don’t even know what they’re doing,” Ogundele said.
“I just hope for the best. I hope that the (coronavirus) cases go down. Until then, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Ogundele is left on his own to find the latest information on when foreign college students may be allowed to enter the United States, and for how long. This week, the Trump administration indicated it would not allow those on an F-1 Visa (which is what Ogundele has had) to keep studying in America at colleges that are offering classes only online.
Ogundele is on a group chat with other athletes in the same position, including fellow Brit Eavion Richardson, who is to be an incoming freshman on the Hawkeye track team.
Ogundele occasionally tweets at the U.S. Embassy in London, which has advised him to remain patient and that students will be a priority whenever international travel is allowed again. There is no one he can meet with face to face, Ogundele said.
“They’ve opened hair salons and movie theaters” in England, he said, “but not embassies.”
In the meantime, Ogundele stays in shape by playing basketball in nearby parks. He does not have access to any indoor courts.
Ogundele has been measuring himself against Boban Jacdonmi, a recent graduate of Southern Miss who is 6-9, 256 pounds. Ogundele, who weighs 280 pounds, said it’s a good indication of what he’ll see in the college game. Finding a big man in England who has played Division I hoops in America has been valuable.
Ogundele is aware that he could be a vital component of Iowa’s team if there’s a college basketball season this winter, and if he gets to be a part of it. The Hawkeyes are a veteran team that will almost surely be ranked in the top 10 when the season begins, especially if star center Luka Garza decides to return for his senior year.
But Iowa will be without post players Ryan Kriener (graduation) and Cordell Pemsl (transfer to Virginia Tech). Jack Nunge is coming off ACL surgery. McCaffery has increasingly deployed an effective four-guard lineup, but there would certainly be minutes available for an effective backup post player.
That is what Ogundele believes he would bring. He sees himself playing the 4 and the 5, even though he wasn’t asked to step outside the paint much at Worcester, where opponents struggled to guard him on the low block. He would like to drop down to 260 pounds to preserve wear and tear on his knees and increase his leaping ability.
“My skill set was kind of minimized because I had a lot of shooters on my team. When I’m in college playing against people my size, I know I have a better skill set. I can size up. I can shoot. I can drive,” Ogundele said.
“I have a jumpshot. I just didn’t show it (in prep school) because I didn’t need it.”
Ogundele spends the rest of his time these days taking two online courses at Iowa (his long-range goal is to study business), watching movies and TV shows, and playing online video games with friends on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ogundele was asked what he will do if he’s not allowed into America this school year. He paused.
“Honestly, I really don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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