“I never believed that I could be an Olympian,” said Oruche. “It is a surreal feeling. It still hasn’t sunk in completely. This is an athlete’s goal to be an Olympian.”
Oruche, 24, graduated from UIS in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He has been playing basketball professionally in Portugal for two seasons. Most recently, he played for the Associacao Academica de Coimbra where he averaged 15.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game during the 2011-12 season.
“It was a nice place to start my career,” said Oruche. “It really gave me an opportunity. Portugal is right next to Spain, which is really a powerhouse league in basketball. It really gave me an opportunity to see where I am in comparison to where I need to be to play at an elite level.”
Oruche, whose parents are originally from Nigeria, holds dual Nigerian and United States citizenship. He was invited to play on the Nigerian basketball team earlier this year. The team defeated the Dominican Republic 88-73 on Sun., July 8, to earn the country’s first-ever berth into the Olympic Games. Nigeria is expected to play in the same Olympic pool as Team USA, giving Oruche the chance to play NBA all-stars, such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Deron Williams, and Springfield’s own Andre Iguodala.
“Not many people get the opportunity to go out there and play against people you kind of idolized growing up in your career. People who gave you passion to play the game,” he said. Oruche adds that Team USA is beatable. “We want to do something big with this opportunity we’ve been given.”
Oruche, who grew up in Bensonville, Ill., led the Prairie Stars in scoring (19.8 points per game) and rebounding (5.8 rebounds per game) during the 2009-10 season, the inaugural year of Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) membership. Oruche was the first UIS student-athlete to earn postseason accolades from the GLVC by being named second team All-GLVC. He was also the first Prairie Star student-athlete to earn the league’s Player of the Week award in December 2009. He spent two seasons at Northern Illinois University as a red shirt freshman before transferring to UIS.
“A special thanks to UIS for supporting me and being there for me,” said Oruche. “It means a lot to know that my school has my back.”
Oruche will leave for London on Mon., July 16, to continue his training with the Nigerian team. Olympic men’s basketball action is scheduled to begin on Sun., July 29. Nigeria is expected to play Team USA on Thurs., Aug. 2 at 4:15 p.m. central time
Extra: Listen to a phone interview with Richard Oruche