His nickname is Easy but Eze Wali’s journey to become one of the best high school basketball players in Rhode Island has been anything but.
The Bishop Hendricken 5”11” junior guard certainly makes it look easy. He is the Hawks leading scorer (18 ppg), can shoot the three, hit a mid range jumper, get to the rim, can defend and he exudes confidence. He sank buzzer-beaters twice this season, including in the state semifinals against La Salle that sent the Hawks to the Division I final. A day later, he dropped 30 to lead Hendricken to the state championship with an exciting overtime win over Classical – a team that had beaten Hendricken three times during the season.
Perhaps what is the most remarkable about Wali isn’t his athleticism or his confidence, it’s how far he has come in so little time.
Wali didn’t pick up a basketball until the seventh grade..
Wali came to America from war-torn Nigeria with his mom and three siblings when he was just a young boy. He struggled. He didn’t speak English and found it difficult to make friends…until he discovered baseball.
“Coming here was a big adjustment,” said Wali. “I didn’t know how to fit in with the kids. It was hard. I made friends through baseball. A lot of people don’t know I played baseball. Through baseball I found kids who came from other countries like the Dominican Republic and I bonded with them. Through sports I found my friends.”
@BHHS_BBall gets a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Eze Wali and @HendrickenAth outlasts @LaSalleSports 69-66. @HendrickenHawks take on @classicalhs tomorrow in the State Tournament Championship Game. Keep it here. @BeaconCSports @lasalleacadri
— Ryan D. Murray (@RyMurRIsports) March 13, 2022
He loved baseball. In fact, he never thought about playing basketball.
“I didn’t even want to pick up a basketball,” said Wali.
But when he entered the seventh grade at Nathanael Greene, his friends were all playing basketball and encouraged Wali to join them.
“They pretty much pressured me and I caved in. I started to love basketball as much as baseball,” he said. “I picked it up quickly and started training hard because I knew I could get better.”
Soon the sport that initially helped him adjust to life in America became a thing of the past, and basketball became his focus.
His eighth grade middle school team won the state championship, and a year later, when he arrived at Bishop Hendricken as a freshman, he was ready to make an impact on one of the state’s top programs.
“I tried out and I thought I was this great player and would make varsity right away,” said Wali.
Hendricken coach Jamal Gomes knew differently. What Gomes saw was a raw athlete with a lot of potential. Impressed by Wali’s tremendous athleticism and quickness, Gomes also saw inexperience.
“He had loads of potential, but he was raw. Eze was very fast and athletic, but you could tell he had a lot to learn, ” said Gomes.
Wali was placed on the junior varsity team.
He was devastated.
“I went home and cried,” said Wali.
It proved to be the best thing that happened to him.
“I respect that he was so disappointed,” said Gomes. “I love that (he) wanted to be challenged and play at the highest level. He just wasn’t quite there yet. He had only been playing for two years and had a lot of growth and development ahead of him. He had to trust the process.”
Wali didn’t start on jay vee and became frustrated. At one point, he even thought about giving up basketball.
“That was my own ego. I thought I was such a great player,” said Wali. “But after that year I learned a lot and grew. I had to figure that out. I learned I needed to improve.”
So he worked on his game – day and night and every free moment in between. When he wasn’t playing basketball, he was watching basketball – game film, college games, the NBA – absorbing everything he could to learn and improve upon.
Another great quarter of basketball sees Hendricken take a 50-47 lead into the fourth. Eze Wali getting it done as a scorer and distributor for the Hawks while Raf Awa starting to heat up from deep.
Fourth quarter is gonna be intense.
— Eric Rueb (@EricRueb) March 13, 2022
“I knew I had to get better,” said Wali. “I was in the gym in the morning, after school, every chance I got I was in the gym.”
“Going into his sophomore year you could see all the hours and hours and hours he put into the gym. His improvement and growth were incredible,” said Gomes.
The hard work began to pay off. His sophomore year, he made the Hawks varsity, came off the bench and helped the Hawks win a state championship.
Then went right back to work. He played with Expressions, one of the areas’ top AAU programs and trained all summer with coach Corey Wright.
“Eze is one of the hardest workers I have worked with,” said Wright. “Mentally he is one of the most focused kids in the gym. On and off the court, he wants to be the best and works everyday to become that.”
Last fall, at the beginning of his junior year, he worked out with Gomes and some of his Hendricken teammates.
“I’ve coached a lot of great players. Not many have shown the growth in one year that Eze has. He is an explosive athlete. He can score in many different ways but he is also an excellent defender and an unselfish player. He can rebound. He can handle the ball and run the point . He does a lot of things well,” said Gomes.. “Aside from basketball, he is a good person with a good heart. He is special.`
A few others think Wali is a pretty special kid, too.
Wali’s mom works multiple jobs, including an overnight shift. He said his dad travels a lot for work and isn’t able to attend every game. But Wali knows if he looks into the stands he will see two familiar faces at every single game cheering him on. He has formed a strong bond with his former middle school teachers, Kim Rossi and Lynn Smith, who offer guidance and extra support.
“I’m his biggest fan,” said Smith. “He’s a great athlete, but it’s his character that also sets him apart. He is a great kid. I want the best for him. Kim and I are just here for some extra support.”
Wali refers to Rossi and Smith has his mentors.
“They mean a lot to me,” said Wali. “They push me to do well in the classroom and to be a better person and a better man.”
He trusted the process and has become one of the top players in the state. With one more year remaining at Hendricken Wali has set his sights on playing at college basketball’s highest level. Both Gomes and Wright feel he’s a Division I caliber player.
“Eze is a very special player,” said Gomes..”He has yet to reach his potential which is a beautiful thing because I know how hard he will work to get there.”