Since tragically losing his family in a house fire last year, Emmanuel Omogbo has not missed a beat on the hardwood thanks to of the support given by the CSU basketball community and his desire to prove himself to the world.
Omogbo lost his mother, father, niece and nephew in a house fire last year, yet he still projects incredible strength and a remarkable drive to succeed.
Omogbo found comfort on the court during this catastrophic time. The senior forward logged 10 minutes against Air Force on Jan. 20, 2016, the day after receiving news of his family’s passing.
By the Rams next tip-off, the news had spread nation-wide. At that home game against San Jose State, Omogbo received a symbolic hug from Rams fans.
“I felt like they (fans), especially when I came back for that San Jose State game last year, gave me a lot of support,” Omogbo said. “A lot of people were right by me, and I really appreciate that. I’m grateful for it.”
The Maryland native also received tremendous aid from his teammates and coaching staff. Omogbo’s counterpart, Gian Clavell, in what is arguably the best 1-2 punch in the Mountain West, has been by Omogbo’s side ever since.
“Whenever he needed me, I was just there,” Clavell said. “I was trying to leave him by himself because he told us he wanted some space.”
Though Clavell was cautious about overwhelming Omogbo with support, he also joked that he can’t keep his hands off of his close friend.
“I’m always giving him hugs,” Clavell said. “Regardless of the situation, I’m always giving him hugs.”
Although it’s been over a year since the devastating incident, the support has not slowed. Fans have raised over $100,000 on a GoFundMe account for Omogbo. As a result of the constant assistance, Omogbo has given the 2016-2017 basketball season a special name.
“The whole Fort Collins community really rallied around me,” Omogbo said. “Everybody helped me through this. That’s why I called it the thank you season; it’s for my teammates and everybody that helped me while I was going through my tragedy.”
The South Plains College transfer feels a sense of obligation to his loved ones.
“Everything I ever did was for my parents, even when I’m playing,” Omogbo said. “People thought I was crazy when I said I was going to still play. I’m still my normal self. The days that go by when I’m not able to talk them, yes, I miss that. But life goes on. I have to do this for the rest of my family. I have other brothers and sisters that are looking after me. I have to prove myself to them.”
Not only has Omogbo played through a difficult time, but he has continued to improve on the court to lead the young Rams squad.
After averaging 10.9 points per game and eight rebounds last season, the big man has significantly improved in each category this year. Omogbo has scored 14 points per game and grabbed 10.9 rebounds so far this season.
Omogbo’s 14 double-doubles this season lead the Mountain West. He had eight double-doubles all of last season.
The 6-foot-8 forward is also one of the country’s leading rebounders. Omogbo is currently tied with the University of California’s Ivan Raab for the seventh-highest rebounder in all of Division 1. Omogbo leads the Mountain West in the rebounding department by a large margin.
The continued success by Omogbo through such a hectic time has been achieved partly because of an ability to clear his mind of outside noise.
“I just have to play through whatever people are saying,” Omogbo said. “People might have bad things to say about me, good things to say. I don’t really listen to the outside things. I just listen to my teammates and my coaches and everybody else in the locker room.”
It’s clear that Omogbo has grown as an individual from the tragedy, on and off the court. His teammates have witnessed a transformation and growing level of maturity.
“I think for him it was a huge growing moment in his life,” sophomore forward Braden Koelliker said. “He really had to step up and be a man, and it shows everyday. He did that, and he’s taken upon that role of growing up and being a man.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz