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What's Next: Dozie Mbonu

Dozie Mbonu is more than just an athlete. He is a dreamer, a creator, and a humanitarian. He grew up in Philadelphia with a single mother and an older brother. His father immigrated from Nigeria to the United States through the help of missionaries in order to attend college. His mother was an opera singer and his family has a long heritage of being educators. His Aunt, who was a botanist and plant physiologist for the government, had a major influence on Dozie throughout his childhood. He remembers she had a dream going back 40 plus years of someday helping areas of the world with limited resources to grow vegetation. She planted a seed in Dozie’s mind that has never left him.

His Uncle also played a key role in his life athletically. He played professional football in the NFL and is enshrined at Penn State University. As a child, Dozie’s mother was actually against him playing football so he gravitated toward other sports. In order to stay in shape in the offseason Dozie’s uncle would play basketball. Soon Dozie started playing too and he quickly fell in love with the sport. In between spending time riding bikes and skateboarding with his friends, he would spend all of his free time at the park playing basketball, even if it meant playing against adults.

n middle school his older brother was the star on the basketball team while Dozie found himself “riding the pine”. That did not discourage young Dozie, but rather it served to motivate him even more. When he was 15 he went to boarding school at Church Farm School, which only had 120 students. The school offered 6 organized sports and, in order to get gym credit, students had to play one sport each season. Dozie ended up playing soccer, running track, and suiting up for the basketball team. His senior year he was voted First Team All-Conference in each sport. It was clear to his coaches and teammates that Dozie was a natural athlete.

During this time he had a choice to make in regards to where he wanted to go to college. John Kistler was his high school basketball coach and became like a second father to Dozie. He gave Dozie two pieces of advice to consider when making the decision. The first one was to choose somewhere within a 2-hour radius because he wanted to be able to watch him play, but more importantly Coach Kistler also encouraged Dozie to choose a place where he could focus on his academics because that would help set him up for life. After much deliberation, Dozie chose to attend Lehigh University. He saw early playing time as a big draw, but what really caught his attention was Lehigh was the only college recruiting him that sent both the head coach and assistant coach on the recruiting visit to his boarding school. That made a big impact on Dozie, who would go on to enjoy a stellar career at Lehigh and finish as one of the all-time leaders in scoring and rebounds.

After college his mother encouraged him to apply for graduate school, but Dozie wanted to see the world and pursue a professional basketball career. For nearly 20 years he enjoyed playing professionally in Europe, the Middle East, and South America, and even became a naturalized citizen in Cyprus. In the middle of his basketball career Dozie broke the 5thmetatarsal bone in his foot. Normal recovery time for this injury with surgery is 3 to 6 weeks, but Dozie chose not to have surgery. This decision led him to being in a cast for 5 months, followed by 6 more months of rehabilitation. Looking back Dozie sees this as a blessing in disguise because his agent at the time wanted to teach him about the sports agency business. Dozie quickly learned the ropes of the business while recovering from his injury and continued his basketball playing career once he was healthy again. He temporarily served as both a player and agent on several teams, before transitioning to a full-time agent after his basketball playing days were over.

Over the years Dozie created many relationships which allowed him to be successful in this new venture. In 1998 Dozie had the opportunity to play for the Nigerian national team at the World Championships. Before the 2012 Olympics a NBA scout for the Utah Jazz asked Dozie why Nigeria had never fielded a basketball team in the Olympics. This led to Dozie crafting a heartfelt proposal to the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), and the President responded by asking Dozie to consult for the Federation and manage the Nigeria Men’s National basketball team. The Nigeria Men’s National team had to overcome many obstacles along the way, but they ultimately secured a bid to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. This single experience opened up countless doors for many of the players both on and off the court; and it had a long-lasting impact on Dozie as well.

Dozie’s life has now come full circle. His greatest passion is helping his aunt, now age 78, to fulfill the dream she laid out so many years ago. Recently, his bio-tech company became a portfolio company for the Ben Franklin technology partners, TechVentures, business incubator, which interestingly is located on the campus of Lehigh University; where the young Dozie attended University. Dozie’s story just goes to show that people are never too old to chase their dreams. At times he is speechless when thinking about how all the dots in his life seem to naturally connect with one another. He is humbled, grateful, and thankful for the amazing journey that brought him to this point.

Life Lessons Learned through Sports

Team Work

Playing sports allowed Dozie to be surrounded by different people, from different backgrounds, and different cultures. He has learned what true team work is all about. Everyone has something to bring to the table. We must all be able to accept our roles for the sake of the team. The world would truly be a better place if we embraced this simple lesson.

Turning a Negative into a Positive

Every time you are faced with an obstacle remember something positive is waiting on the other side. What you learn about yourself when things aren’t going your way will only help you better prepare for all of life’s challenges. You can either feel sorry for yourself or use it as a learning experience and grow from it. Anybody can overcome anything!

No More Excuses for Mistakes Made

We all make mistakes, but sometimes it can be hard owning up to those mistakes. Learn to be vulnerable and open up about your weaknesses. Realize you should not only learn from your mistakes, but you can use them as a tool for teaching others as well. Too often people are more inclined to cover up their mistakes instead of embracing them. Stay true to who you are and stop trying to be someone you are not.

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