Senior Tonye Jekiri aims to end career on high note this season

Senior Tonye Jekiri (23) makes a slam dunk during last year's 76-52 win over Virginia Tech at the BankUnited Center. File Photo // The Miami Hurricane
Senior Tonye Jekiri (23) dunks during last year’s 76-52 win over Virginia Tech at the BankUnited Center. File Photo // The Miami Hurricane

Before attending the University of Miami, senior starting center Tonye Jekiri only had two years of organized basketball under his belt. Four years later, Jekiri anchors the team’s defense and provides a much-needed scoring punch in the paint.

Last season, Jekiri’s rebounding production was stellar, leading the ACC in rebounds with 9.9 per game. This season expects no drop-off in his performance on the glass. In Miami’s exhibition game against Dowling, Jekiri recorded 10 rebounds in just 20 minutes of gameplay.

Just as Jekiri’s rebounding is vital to a strong Canes’ defense, his shot-blocking and shot-disruption are both crucial to the Canes’ paint protection. Listed at 7-foot and 248 pounds, Jekiri is one of the biggest and most powerful players in the ACC. His length allows him to alter shots of opposing big men and penetrating guards.

Not only is Jekiri key to the Canes’ defense, but he also has a growing role in the team’s offense. He has always been a defensive playmaker due to his size, but he is growing as an offensive weapon, specifically as a shooter. He has improved his free throw percentage every season with the Canes while he also seems to be able to more consistently and confidently knock down mid-range jump shots. In his first season with Miami, Jekiri shot 55 percent from the charity stripe, while in his junior year he improved to 73 percent.

“Before, he used to be very limited on offense and now he is doing more,” redshirt senior point guard Angel Rodriguez said of Jekiri.

Jekiri is now a viable scorer in the post. However, he was not always a threat to score in the paint.

“His offensive role will be expanded because he is scoring at such a high rate from the low post, something he didn’t do in his first three years,” Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said.

After coming to the United States from Nigeria in the middle of high school, Jekiri is playing in just his sixth year of organized basketball. As a child, he grew up a soccer buff and still finds himself occasionally playing soccer with the Miami women’s soccer team, according to the Miami Herald.

As he enters his fourth season with the Hurricanes, Jekiri does not regret his decision to play in Miami.

“I was looking for [a place] where I could really feel comfortable and play good basketball … I never had any regrets,” Jekiri said.

He is not only comfortable with his setting but also with the man in charge of the Canes. Jekiri sees Larrañaga as more than just his basketball coach. “[The relationship] has been great. It has been like a father-and-son thing. We’ve really been together for four years now,” Jekiri said of Larrañaga.

Their relationship is a two-way street, as Larrañaga has respect and high hopes for Jekiri. “Physically, he has gotten bigger and stronger; from a maturity standpoint, he has done very well with his school work, he has done very well with fitting in … I think he has matured in very positive way,” Larrañaga said.

Last season, the Canes finished the year by losing in the National Invitation Tournament championship to Stanford. Jekiri did not play in the game because of a concussion. Hopefully, he can lead the Canes back to the NCAA Tournament in his final season in Miami.