From beginner to division one
After spending his early adolescent years mostly outdoors, Kjellan (KJ) Oduor, an international student-athlete on the men’s basketball team, didn’t pick up a basketball until middle school. Growing up in Kisumu, Kenya, Oduor found himself playing soccer and field hockey like his father until basketball was introduced to him back in 2010.
Standing at over six feet, attention was drawn to him by his peers and coaches on his ability to play basketball. Since there were limited opportunities in Kenya for basketball, Oduor made the decision to attend high school in the United States.
When Oduor began his junior year at Spire Academy in Ohio, the captain of the basketball team wanted to get him on the team.
“He took me to the court and showed me around,” Oduor said. “He gave me a ball and asked me to shoot it and I didn’t know how. I tossed it up, and the crazy part is that it went in.”
The captain quickly added him to the team; however, Oduor quit after the first practice. Being a 4.0 student and the valedictorian of his school, he was used to being busy academically and the idea of playing basketball seriously was foreign to him.
“The basketball here is way different than at home,” Oduor said. “Everything was new like the speed and I had to adapt. I just didn’t like the fit. I wanted to expand my horizons but the style they wanted me to play, I felt like I was put in a box a little bit.”
After that first interaction, Oduor wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue playing. It took him realizing his potential that prompted him to join the team. During his senior year, he earned a scholarship to Western Carolina University, where he redshirted and did not see the court that year. He then transferred to the College of Southern Idaho.
Oduor still had trouble adapting to the speed and the style of play as he entered his college basketball career. Unfortunately, an injury caused his career to be set back and put on pause.
“I tore my meniscus and it slowed me down,” Oduor said. “The injury humbled me a little bit. I learned a lot from it, and it showed me how fast these opportunities can be taken away. I appreciate all the opportunities I get to play.”
Chris McMillan, an assistant coach for the Central Michigan basketball team, previously coached at Oduor’s previous college, the College of Southern Idaho which led to a chance for him to become a Chippewa this past year. As he begins the season, Oduor has seen the court for a total of 48 minutes as of Nov. 29, just shy of the Mid-American Conference opening on Jan. 2
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: "I want to do something great with the (MAC) conference. Then I also just (want to) grow as a player, as a student and as a person."
-- KJ Oduor
Coming from Kenya, adjusting to Mount Pleasant has been both difficult and peaceful for Oduor, he said. On one side, adjusting to the cultural and environmental differences is a challenge; however, the nature and the small campus feels close to home for Oduor. From the social aspect to the environmental culture, it’s been an adventure for him to settle in.
“It’s a great experience to be here,” Oduor said. “There are more experiences here. People get exposed to things much earlier, that’s an experience that normally doesn’t happen at home.”
One of the biggest challenges Oduor has faced since being in the U.S. has been the lack of family time. Since coming here in 2019, he hasn’t been back to his hometown.
With the time difference being eight hours ahead in Kenya, it’s often hard for Oduor to find time to speak to his family over the phone. He is the second oldest of five siblings, making it hard for him to miss out on his siblings’ accomplishments and growing up.
“I have to do what I have to do at times, and I have to make sacrifices,” Oduor said. “When having bad days, you want someone close that you can talk to, and I don’t have that luxury.”
Aside from basketball, Oduor has his sights set on big academic dreams. With big dreams comes big responsibility, he said. Having to adjust to tough academics and juggling being a student-athlete has shown to be difficult.
“It’s not an easy route, it’s hard and it gets intense,” he said. “It’s hard for me right now. I have a lot of stuff on my plate and there’s little-to-no free time.”
With a major in pre-med, and a current 4.0 GPA, his goal is to make an impact on someone’s life.
“I’m going to use basketball as a tool to achieve my dreams,” Oduor said. “I want to use the connections I made here, to make a bigger impact at home.”