DURHAM Ebuka Anyaorah caught the ball at the top of the key. No one was guarding him. With no hesitation, he hit a 3.
It was his first points in nearly a year.
I said, Man this is going in, in my head, and it went in, Anyaorah said. Sometimes you have to speak those things into existence.
N.C. Central (6-2) was playing Cincinnati in a nationally televised season opener on Nov. 8, and the camera caught a brief glimpse of coach LeVelle Moton embracing Anyaorah during a timeout after the shot.
A graduate student, Anyaorah is a 6-foot-4, 194-pound guard. Some on campus recognize him for his athletic ability. Others, for his 3-point shooting.
But if you would have asked Anyaorah and his coaches before the season whether he expected to be in a position to hit a 3 for the Eagles this season, he probably would have said no.
Season cut short
Anyaorah played two seasons at NCCU after transferring from McLennan Community College, in Waco, Texas. However, after starting the first six games of his second season, he suffered a broken left foot on Nov. 24, 2012.
The doctors initially said the injury would take 4-6 weeks to heal, but his recovery took longer than expected. He never returned to the court that season for his senior year.
Before Anyaorahs injury, he was expected to make major contribution to a team that would go on to finish the regular season with a 22-9 record, second in the MEAC.
The Eagles lost in the quarterfinals of the MEAC tournament to eventual tournament champion N.C. A&T.
Anyaorah couldnt help but think he could have helped changed that outcome.
From dark times to brighter days
Anyaorah had been injured before. He hurt his leg in his freshman season for the University of Georgia and was redshirted.
Sitting out is not something you want to do twice, Anyaorah said. Its one of the worst things that can happen, being sidelined for a whole season.
But when he went down with the injury last season, he and his coaches began to doubt whether he would ever play another game in an Eagles jersey. He had been in college for five years already after transferring twice.
I wasnt even sure he wanted to come back, Moton said. I thought he wanted to graduate and just move on with his life.
Anyaorah applied for medical redshirt status, hoping to gain an extra year of eligibility. But questions loomed. What if he didnt get the year back? What would he do?
A tough time
These were dark times for him, and basketball wasnt the worst of it.
A few months before, his lifelong best friend, Andrew Anderson, died of a rare lung disease two months after suffering the first symptoms.
This guy was more like a brother to me, he said.
They first met on the basketball court. They did everything together. They went to the same school. They hung around the same people.
I was thinking, Wow did he really die, Anyaorah said. It caught me off guard. I was so numb I didnt know what to do.
Anyaorah dedicated the 2012-13 season to Anderson. Then he got hurt.
He was confused and started to give up.
I lost a lot of morals, Anyaorah said.
He calls it his testimony. He started to steal, smoke and to go to clubs, all things he said he would not normally do.
I hit rock bottom definitely, Anyaorah said.
His sister Adaorah Anyaorah agreed.
It was a real stressful time for him especially with the death of his best friend, she said.
But in March he said he began to change his ways, reading his Bible daily, joining his church and leaving the negative things behind.
God picked me back up, and He gave me something to lean on.
The real world
It was September. He had graduated in May, and it was already one month into the next school year.
The basketball season was two months away, and still no word from the NCAA on his medical redshirt status.
Anyaorah wasnt sure if he would get the year back so he started thinking of a plan B play oversees or go to graduate school.
But if he went overseas, he would probably have to sign with an agent, an NCAA rule violation. He didnt want to commit in case he was granted medical redshirt status.
Adaorah was there when he needed advice.
My brother is really religious, she said. I just tried to encourage him to stay patient.
The text message
Anyaorah was in the bed asleep when he received the text message from a school official in the academic department. It was a screen shot of an email that said he would be granted another year of play.
I couldnt believe it at first, Anyaorah said. But I was excited.
I was this close to the real world. He demonstrated with his index finger and thumb almost touching.
From there his coach, Moton, made a few calls and helped him get into graduate school for Human Sciences.
Happy aint even the word, Moton said about getting Anyaorah back. Hes one of my favorite kids that Ive ever coached. A tremendous kid. And just his maturity within itself brings a leadership thats much needed to this team.
Anyaorah said this team has an opportunity to be better than last years team, and he doesnt want to take that opportunity for granted.
Im just so grateful for the experience and to be back with the team after a scare that I may not get another year, he said.
It was the first home game of the season against Johnson & Wales University on Nov. 11. The crowd was on its feet.
Anyaorah stole the ball with 48 seconds left. No one was in front of him on his way to the basket. It was a perfect opportunity to get his first dunk since the injury and to put a stamp on the game. He went up for a reverse slam and slipped. He barely got off the ground, awkwardly laying the ball up instead.
But it wasnt his foot this time.
These are new shoes, Anyaorah said laughing. It couldnt catch the floor. But hey I got the two points, though.
The Eagles already accomplished one upset this year, beating N.C. State 82-72 in OT on Nov. 20, a game in which Anyaorah sat out with a shoulder injury. He expects to come back soon. Like Anyaorah, his team is looking forward to seeing how much better they can be with him.
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1