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Chukwuzimife “Zimi” James Raymond Nwokeji is not your typical college basketball player. When you meet him, you are met with a larger-than-life smile that can take over a room. Once Zimi starts talking, you realize very quickly that this young, mild-mannered man comes from a strong background. His manners would match that of someone in the royal family. After he warms up a little bit and you start to get to know Zimi, you begin to see what makes him so special. He is driven. Dedicated. Ready. Zimi Nwokeji is blazing a new trail that will set himself up for life.

To get to know Zimi, you have to go back. Way back. Zimi was born on November 1, 2000 in Ann Arbor, Mich.. At the time, his parents Kennedy and Linda had a decision to make. What do we name our baby? Kennedy was pushing for the name Denzel, after the actor Denzel Washington. However, Linda had another plan. She wanted to use the family names. Kennedy is originally from Nigeria. In southwestern Nigeria, the native language is Igbo. In Nigeria, when under British rule, the tradition is that your children have an English first name and the Igbo name is saved for the home. That tradition has carried on to today. So, Kennedy wanted to continue this with an English first name and an Igbo middle name. However, Linda argued that since we are living in a country where English is the first language, they should use the Igbo name for the first name to remind them of their father’s culture. Then, they used the English names for the middle name. After a lot of discussions, Kennedy and Linda agreed to use the Igbo name for the first name and the English name for the middle names. So, Kennedy and his father talked on the phone multiple times over the next couple of months and created the name Chukwuzimife. Chukwuzimife means God has shown me the light. His middle names, James and Raymond, were the names of his two grandpas on his mom’s side of the family. Long story short, mom knew what was best and thus, Zimi’s journey began.

As Zimi grew up, his family was always there for him. Growing up, his mom and dad were constantly pushing him and his siblings to be the very best. Zimi remembers his parents always telling him, “The only thing you can’t do is nothing.” Kennedy and Linda were consistently there. Zimi fondly remembers as he was growing up playing basketball, his dad would always bring the cooler with all the snacks and Gatorades. When he had to go to AAU tournaments, one of his parents would drive him to and from. The support that his family has shown him has given him confidence to push onward and upward.

That support from his parents has, in turn, allowed Zimi and his siblings to explore their passions. Zimi is the first to say that each of his siblings are very different and, in each case, are blazing their own trail through life. His sister Tari just got her doctorate in psychology and now lives in Baltimore. Another sister, Kayla, is up in Michigan and has a daughter. She is moving forward on her path. His youngest sister, Nene, just finished her sophomore year in high school. She has a 4.5 weighted GPA through high school so far. If it wasn’t for the influence of his mother and father, who knows where the Nwokeji siblings would be?

For Zimi, his trail is through the game of basketball. Growing up, Zimi fell in love with the sport when he was in middle school. He vividly remembers the games feeling “big time”. The atmosphere, the competition, and the practice grind leading up to the games all made it feel like home for Zimi. It also helped that Zimi was pretty good. As he moved into high school, he knew that basketball was his ticket to a scholarship and education. The game of basketball was going to open doors for him. So, he continued to work hard and get better. As he finished high school, he and his support system found themselves facing a decision. They decided it would be best to attend Spire Academy in Cleveland for a prep year. So, he made the move to Cleveland.

After a long and winding road, Zimi found himself on a visit at the University of Dayton in the fall. He remembers the feeling that he got on campus. He had always been told that the biggest thing to look for is the fit. And he felt it. So Zimi decided to pull the trigger and commit on the last night on his visit. He was in the players’ lounge in the locker room area of the arena. Everyone was in there enjoying the victory. Coach Grant asked Zimi after the game “So, what do you think Zim?” Zimi said “I like it a lot and love this space. I would very much like to come.” The immediate reaction was priceless. He said that Coach Grant gave a huge fist pump and was jacked up.

For Zimi, the path to today has been long and winding. It goes through many states, cities, and small towns. It took countless sacrifices and a lot of hard work to get to where he is today. But, with the support of incredible parents and siblings, he has continued to push forward and succeed. As for the future, no one can really tell you exactly what is going to happen. The only thing that is for certain is that Chukwuzimife James Raymond Nwokeji is going to do everything he can to blaze a new trail to success.

The Flight is a weekly series that highlights the incredible stories of our student athletes on our Men's and Women's Basketball teams. Be on the lookout for new stories every Thursday and Friday throughout the summer.

Story and Graphics by: Ryan Phillips, Marketing and Digital Strategy Coordinator Dayton Flyer Athletics