Newark, New Jersey — Cliff Omoruyi is known for his powerhouse dunks.
But the Rutgers University junior only started playing basketball at age 14, just before his family in Nigeria sent him to New Jersey.
“It was just to get a better education,” Omoruyi told CBS News.
Omoruyi moved in with Muhammad Oliver, a volunteer with the basketball program at the Salvation Army Center in Newark, who wasn’t overly impressed with Omoruyi’s on-court skills at first.
“He had a lot of work to do,” Oliver said. “We had to basically start from scratch.”
Oliver was not only Omoruyi’s legal guardian, but also a motivator.
“I almost gave up on basketball,” Omoruyi said. “He got me to believe that I could be what I want if I just keep working.”
It was a work ethic that applied off the court too and allowed Omoruyi to serve as a role model for Oliver’s son.
“Because of Cliff, my son improved academically tremendously,” Oliver told CBS News. “He saw how Cliff handled basketball and math.”
Omoruyi, who leads Rutgers in points and rebounds this season, is also one of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given annually to the nation’s best college center.
And as one of the best players in the Big Ten Conference, he has earned $25,000 in endorsements. In honor of Oliver, he’s donated all that money to revitalize the basketball court at the Salvation Army Center.
Omoruyi said Oliver changed his life.
“I think he’s changed our life as well,” Oliver replied.