The author with John Njei
Sunday, October 20, 2013
After the 2010 NCAA season, John Njei left Jose Rizal University (JRU). Up to that point, he had played three seasons for the Heavy Bombers. The young man went home to Cameroon in order to take some time off and figure things out.
After a year’s sabbatical, he went back to the Philippines, not to play basketball anymore but to continue his college education.
“I was in third year college when I took a leave,” recounted the 6-foot Douala, Cameroon native. “To be given a chance to get an education and a college degree is priceless. Not everyone has that chance and I wanted to seize it.”
Since Njei left the varsity team, his scholarship was cut. That meant that he had to pay for his tuition fee. He got a job that paid for his schooling and after a year, Nchotu John Njei graduated with a degree in Business Administration from JRU.
When he was done from school, he successfully applied for a work permit. Today, he works as a troubleshooter for a call center in Manila.
“When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a professional athlete,” he revealed of his ambitions. “Once I was done playing, I thought that I could be a sports agent. But things change.”
Basketball. It sounds funny but back in Cameroon, his countrymen live and breathe football. Njei did, too.
Since Africa is almost in the same time as Europe, Cameroonians woke up waiting for the weekend football matches. They’d showed everything on local television – the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Eredivisie and more.
“What games you missed you could watch when they replay everything,” recalled Njei of his youthful years. “We all lived and breathed football. In every village, there is a football pitch so we all grow up playing the sport.”
In Cameroon, sports is a means for national unity. Triumphs in the international level is an immense source of national pride.
Basketball was something Njei gravitated to. If you ask him, he has no idea why. “It just happened,” he shrugs. “Basketball isn’t even in the top three sports in Cameroon.”
Football is by far the most popular sport followed by rugby and then track and field. In recent years, table tennis, cycling and basketball have become popular.
Once he arrived in the Philippines, he tried his luck at Far Eastern University but only his countryman, Pippo Noundou, was accepted. Through a mutual friend based in Malaysia, Njei met up with then-JRU head coach Ariel Vanguardia. He soon became a Heavy Bomber where he was a part of a very talented team that included Mark Cagoco, JM Wilson, James Sena, Marvin Hayes, the late Jayson Nocom, Jay-R Bulangis, Allen Montemayor, Raycon Kabigting, and Nate Matute.
They came close to defeating San Beda in the 2008 NCAA Finals. When Sena played poorly in Game 3, they didn’t have a chance of defeating the reigning NCAA titlists. “That was our chance,” recalled Njei. “A chance to win for the school that had not won in decades.”
Not soon afterwards, the veterans graduated and JRU once more slipped down the league rankings.
“That was disappointing so I had think and the time away made me realize about taking the opportunities before you,” Njei recounted.
And now he is working in Manila.
When he isn’t at work, he watches basketball – an insane amount of it – PBA, UAAP and NCAA. And when he isn’t watching, he counsels several African players on life in the Philippines about taking their studies seriously.
Like every other college kid, some listen and some don’t.
“It’s a waste,” Njei said, while shaking his head. “Education is the key to moving ahead in life.”
He lives now in Eastwood where he shares an apartment with his girlfriend. He’s far from his playing weight as he has put on some pounds.
“Yes, I know,” he smiled. “I don’t look like a basketball player anymore. It’s a different life now. But life is good. I am able to pay my rent and earn a decent living. I am happy.”