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Camden Catholic's Onifade ready for showtime

Demola Onifade has made a positive impact at Camden Catholic. He just hasn't done much of anything on the basketball court.

Camden Catholic H.S. basketball player Demola Onifade directs a
teammate during practice.  (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)
Camden Catholic H.S. basketball player Demola Onifade directs a teammate during practice. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)Read more

Demola Onifade has made a positive impact at Camden Catholic.

He just hasn't done much of anything on the basketball court.

Onifade is the Distinguished Honors student - with one "B" and the rest "A"s in every marking period since April 2013 - who once took the teacher's place at the blackboard during an Algebra II lesson to better explain a concept to his classmates.

"That sounds like him," Camden Catholic senior forward Brendan Crawford said of his studious teammate.

Onifade is the senior who went to the home of a freshman soccer player who had broken his leg to offer encouragement and advice on bouncing back from an injury.

"I wanted him to keep his head up high," Onifade said.

Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford, who teaches at the school, raves about Onifade's "great attitude" and friendly demeanor.

Camden Catholic senior swingman Courtney Cubbage said Onifade is one of the most popular students in the school.

"Everybody loves him," Cubbage said.

The irony is that Onifade has yet to make his presence felt in the one area that most greatly influenced his decision to leave his home in Lagos, Nigeria, 20 months ago: Basketball.

He is determined to change that.

"This season is very important to me," Onifade said the other night, during a break in a Camden Catholic practice. "I know I have to do my best. I'm excited to get out there with my teammates."

Onifade might be the largest unknown factor in South Jersey boys' basketball this season. His development likely will have a major bearing on the Olympic National division and Non-Public South A playoff races as well as the Top 25 rankings.

He stands 6-foot-8. He runs like the court like an athlete who is 5-foot-8. He jumps "out of the building," according to Brendan Crawford.

But Onifade also lacks polish in his offensive game and the know-how that comes from court experience, according to Matt Crawford.

"He doesn't really know a lot of the little nuances of the game yet," said Matt Crawford, who is Brendan's cousin. "It's just experience. It's the little clever things that you pick up just from playing and playing. He hasn't done that."

Onifade enrolled at Camden Catholic in April of 2013. His journey to the United States was arranged by Youth Interlock Society, a nonprofit organization based in Chester, Pa., that is connected to the Team Speed AAU program.

Youth Interlock Society's founder and director, Earl Pearsall, said he is paying Onifade's tuition, room and board at Camden Catholic. Onifade lives on campus with around 30 other international students in the school's Nazareth House.

Onifade played for Team Speed in the spring and summer of 2013, but was bothered by a sore shoulder and struggled, at times, to make an adjustment to the American game.

He still was nursing his right shoulder during preseason with Camden Catholic last fall, missing practice time as well as scrimmages. He played in parts of two games - both in a showcase event at St. Augustine Prep during the 2013 holiday season - before further injuring his shoulder.

He underwent surgery for a torn labrum in January, sitting out the rest of the high school season and most of the AAU season as well.

"It was tough," said Onifade, who sat at the end of the bench in street clothes during Camden Catholic games last season. "I was depressed. I could only watch and I wanted to be out there with my teammates."

Although Onifade played in less than two full games last season, he showed his potential on several plays.

"I think he had more blocks in two games that I had in half the season," Brendan Crawford said. "He's an amazing shot-blocker."

Crawford and Cubbage played last spring and summer with Team Speed on a squad that included Haddonfield senior twins Rob and Nick DePersia and was coached by their father, Haddonfield attorney Rob DePersia.

Onifade played in a few games, on a limited basis, in the summer. He still was recovering from surgery and was less than 100 percent.

"The thing about Demola is how hard he works," Cubbage said. "He would be in this gym every night in the summer until 10 o'clock. He wants to get better so bad."

Matt Crawford believes that Onifade will be a dominant defensive player from the moment he steps on the court this season. His offensive game might take some more time to develop.

"He can change the game defensively," Matt Crawford said. "He will surprise people with how quickly he can jump.

"He can make his foul shots and he has a nice little jump shot. He has to work on his footwork and his hands.

"He's going to rebound and play defense. Everything else we get from him on offense will be extra."

Onifade has not been home since leaving Nigeria. He said he talks with his mother, Sola, about once every two weeks.

"I miss my family but I knew that I would when I came here," Onifade said.

Onifade said he came to this country to further his education and to play basketball. He plans to do both at the college level, although he has yet to generate any scholarship offers.

"They haven't really seen me because I've been hurt," Onifade said of college recruiters.

Onifade believes his injury will "bring out the best in me" because it will make him more determined to play well this season for the Irish.

"Life is not easy, life is not always fun," Onifade said. "Sometimes, it can be a rough road. It makes me work harder.

"I know how important this season is to me. It's more important to me than to some of my teammates because I want to go to college and play basketball.

"I just have to keep hoping, 'No more injuries.' "