Akosa Maduegbunam admittedly chose the wrong path on occasion while growing up in the tough Boston neighborhood of Charlestown.
However, steering toward the path that would lead him to his dream — playing basketball on “the big stage” — allowed him to make it to where he is today.
Maduegbunam (pronounced MAD-a-WAY-boo-nam) met Penn State coach Patrick Chambers while he coached at Boston University and followed him to Penn State, where the freshman is slowly becoming acclimated to the team’s style of play.
The New Englander’s journey to Happy Valley did not come easily, however, as he lost his father at a young age. Maduegbunam leaned on his hard-working mother to help him make the right choices, but the guard said he often still found himself in trouble following his father’s death in 2002.
“I’m not going to blame [me getting in trouble] on the fact that I never had a father figure growing up, but there were times when I was just immature,” Maduegbunam said.
The Nittany Lion, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria in 1987, said he did not become extremely serious about basketball until high school, but he quickly developed a passion for it and it helped him stay on the right path.
Maduegbunam averaged 22.3 points per game his junior year when he led Charlestown High School to a Boston City League championship. He finished his high school career at the Winchendon School, a boarding school designed to help kids prep for college, where he averaged 18 points and six rebounds per game.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder said, while he didn’t have an ideal childhood, basketball helped him see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“With basketball keeping me out of trouble,” he said, “and knowing that if I stayed out of trouble that I could make an opportunity out of this…I knew that staying on the right path would lead me here.”
The path for Maduegbunam trailed that of Chambers, who left Boston University for Penn State in the spring of 2011.
The freshman said he still hasn’t fully gotten up to the speed of collegiate play, but he expects that to change over time under Chambers’ guidance.
“I just followed him here and I’m just happy that he’s given me the opportunity,” he said. “Right now, I’m just learning, learning a whole lot, because this is a totally different game at this level.”
Maduegbunam said despite wanting to play consistent minutes right away, as most freshmen do, he has learned to become just as excited about learning under the players above him on the depth chart.
Redshirt sophomore guard D.J. Newbill said the biggest improvement he has seen out of Maduegbunam has been his maturity.
“Like a lot of freshmen, they come thinking it’s like high school and they’re just going to be the top guy,” Newbill said. “But, he kept working and he’s a good personality for our team, too. He’s like a brother to all of us so we love that he’s here.”
Maduegbunam has played just four minutes per game this season, but he logged a season-high 18 minutes against Purdue on Sunday, seeing action early and often.
Chambers said the guard wasn’t picking up the offense quickly enough early in the season, but he has felt more comfortable having the freshman on the court recently.
“He’s getting better,” Chambers said. “I felt like he was more prepared [for the Purdue game] and I wanted to give him a chance. I gave him a chance and he didn’t light the world on fire, but he didn’t really hurt us either.”
Maduegbunam’s progression has not come as a surprise to Chambers, who the freshman said has encouraged him to make sure he brings his best effort every day.
And after overcoming all that he did before coming to Penn State, Maduegbunam said this is the least he could do.
“It’s tough to coach effort. I don’t even know if you can coach effort,” Maduegbunam said.
“So as I try to come in with a positive attitude every day, I’m learning a whole lot more than I ever did in high school or middle school. So I’m grateful for it.”