Every morning begins with a cross-continental FaceTime video call.
Ebenezer Dowuona, a 6-foot-10 four-star big man and 2020 Ohio State target, wakes up in Georgia and picks up his phone around 7 a.m. to see and hear from his mother, who still lives in Ghana. He hasn’t been back to his native country or his hometown of Accra since he and his brother, Emmanuel, left Africa for the United States in 2014 with a legal guardian who had a connection to the family.
When he chose to depart the only home he knew at the age of 12 with his older brother, Dowuona gave up the chance to see his younger brother, who was just 6 months old at the time, grow up. About two years ago, his mother gave birth to a girl, whom Dowuona has never met. Their relationship mainly exists through daily calls on FaceTime.
Dowuona, a nearly 6-foot-7 pre-teen, had hope of an improved future. He loved Ghana, but after playing basketball for three months – yes, only three months – he and his older brother decided to move to the United States filled with hope and vast goals.
“We felt like it was a chance for us to make something happen,” Dowuona told Eleven Warriors. “Personally, my goal was to make it to the NBA. When I came up here, that's been on my mind till now to make it to the NBA. We've been working every day. That's the goal. Hopefully we make it to the NBA.”
So far, the Dowuona brothers have taken notable strides in their basketball careers, parlaying their abilities into high-major offers.
Emmanuel joined Purdue’s basketball team last year as a three-star center, picking the Boilermakers over offers from Tennessee, Clemson, Connecticut and others. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2018-19 and will play his first collegiate minutes next season.
Ebenezer, the No. 123 overall prospect and the 16th-ranked center in the class of 2020, has double-digit scholarship offers. He said four schools – Ohio State, Mississippi, Georgia Tech and Auburn – are pursuing him hardest right now.
The Buckeyes offered Dowuona a scholarship in November, he told Eleven Warriors. He’s one of a number of power forward/center prospects that members of the Ohio State staff visited last week. Coaches also stopped by to see four-stars Dawson Garcia, Mark Williams and Zach Loveday.
Dowuona took a visit to Columbus just before Christmas, and assistant coach Terry Johnson saw him in Georgia last week.
“When I watched their games and stuff, I see myself playing with them,” Dowuona said. “How they play, they really (distribute) the ball a lot. It's not about just one person. It's about the whole team. When I when on my visit, when I spoke to coach Holtmann, I really felt good about how he was talking about the players, about how develop-wise he's really good at developing players.”
A look at some of Ebenezer Dowuona's work at @TheEC16 - was one of the best bigs in attendance. Finished with 16pts, 8reb in the 3rd Place Game - his #EC16 also included a 21 rebound performance in the Semis@ebe_1k @THS_HawksMBB @THS_HawksSports @CoachRome4#SUVtv #ABACE pic.twitter.com/3UCHvpn7AE— SUVtv (@SUVtv) December 25, 2018
If Dowuona eventually becomes a Buckeye, he’d have a chance to face his brother and the Boilermakers, and he wouldn’t shy away from that possibility.
“I would love going against Emmanuel, not going to lie,” Dowuona said. “I really like going against Emmanuel, talking trash and all that. If we're on the court, I'm going at him, for real. We're playing. I go hard because I don't like seeing Emmanuel beating me in basketball. And, you know, I'm the younger brother, so he doesn't want me to (beat him).”
Dowuona didn’t grow up playing basketball. He had no interest in the sport. Instead, he played soccer, like most kids in Ghana.
So when Dowuona was 11 years old and his brother took up basketball, he declined each invite to join him.
“I remember watching, I remember he always left the house every day to go to play basketball with his friends, and I'm like, 'No, I'll just stay home and play video games. I don't want to do anything,’” Dowuona said.
But Dowuona just kept growing, hitting 6-foot-6 at the age of 12. At some point, soccer was no longer feasible, and he gave in to the pressure from his brother, who is five years older than him.
“One day, he was like, 'You've got to come with me today. I'll teach you how to make layups,’” Dowuona said. “He started me how to teach right layups and left layups and stuff. That's when it all started.”
At his height, Dowuona’s potential was obvious, though the game didn’t come to him immediately. He doesn't remember the specifics of the first time he played a five-on-five game, but he remembers making constant mistakes.
Three months passed, and he progressively put more serious time into his game, spending hours on the court.
Then came the move. The more than 5,000-mile move. The Dowuona brothers – Ebenezer and Emmanuel – got on a plane and headed to the United States just a few months after Ebenezer made his first shot.
“My guardian, he knew my family for a little bit,” Dowuona said. “That's the main reason why I came because my family knew him. They had some sort of connection. So he was part of our family, so that is how. He was our guardian, and he brought us here. He got us in school and everything.”
Dowuona’s first taste of the United States came in Florida, where he spent a year before heading to Georgia, where he now attends The Heritage School in Newnan. Initially, he felt homesick, and the food didn’t help.
The troubles began with pizza. Oh, man, the pizza. Don’t get Dowuona started on that “nasty,” cheesy comfort food.
Growing up in Accra, the capital of Ghana, Dowuona had an abundance of seafood, and he took advantage of the options. But when he and his brother, Emmanuel, moved from West Africa to Florida where he spent his first year in the United States, he naturally couldn’t eat the same foods that were once readily available to him.
Worst of all, he had to eat pizza.
“I mean, we had pizza in Ghana, but it was really for Americans,” Dowuona said. “When I came up here, I remember that was the first night we came up here, and it was the worst thing ever. Until now, I don't eat pizza. Since then, I'll never eat pizza.”
As the days turned to weeks, Dowuona eased into his new life in the United States, and he was aided by his older brother who endured similar early hiccups while striving for the same goals.
As a seventh grader, Dowuona said, he would wake up at 5 a.m. to do sprints with his brother, then they played basketball until about 6:30 a.m. before heading to school.
“We would play one-on-one for a little bit,” Dowuona said. “We kind of played similar a bit. For me, personally, the difference between us is he's a lot stronger than me, like, he's way stronger than me, and I'm quicker, much quicker than him. But I really got better playing Emmanuel, like a lot.”
At 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, Dowuona views himself as a defense-first big man with mobility. After all, that’s what initially came naturally to him.
Even though he has developed into a four-star prospect, he has just four years of experience playing basketball, putting his learning curve behind the typical 16-year-old.
“I think I'm a great shot blocker, a good rebounder and on top (of that), I'm still working on my offensive parts, getting better with my shots,” Dowuona said. “Also a good post player, a really good post player. And also a good teammate.”
The list of guards at the @ClassicTOC goes for days, but don't sleep on the post/interior talents on display as well. see "Ebenezer Dowuona"...@ebe_1k @THS_HawksMBB @THS_HawksSports @CoachRome 4 @GAHoopCircle @CoachMaysWHS#TOC2018 #SUVtv #ABACE pic.twitter.com/WsjlHEFlAp— SUVtv (@SUVtv) December 31, 2018
As a junior, he earned first-team all-county honors by averaging eight points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game.
Dowuona said he sees himself as a power forward at the collegiate level simply due to his lighter-than-average weight, but isn’t locked into that belief. Plus, he’s seen first-hand the dominance of centers in college. While in Columbus in December, he met Greg Oden, a student coach on Ohio State’s staff.
“He spoke to me about how it doesn't matter if you go back to the NBA or wherever you go, you go to the pros and come back, you still have a home,” Dowuona said. “It feels like home, and they still have your back. That's big-time for me because, you know, I'm far away from home, and I really need people like that to support me.”
Ohio State already has another big man in a similar spot, living thousands of miles from home.
Ibrahima Diallo, a Senegal-born 7-footer, signed his National Letter of Intent to play center for the Buckeyes two weeks ago. Dowuona visited Columbus before Diallo was truly a possibility, and the addition took up one spot in the frontcourt that could have eventually been his. But he’s intrigued by the possibility of playing with a fellow African.
“You never know if it comes to the point where I come to Ohio State and it's us two in the same lineup,” Dowuona said. “It's going to be a scary lineup. Two big guys like that on the same team.”
Atop Dowuona’s support system among those residing in the United States is his older brother, who has given him advice throughout the recruiting process.
Just as he begins days with a call to his mom, he uses FaceTime to talk to Emmanuel every night before he goes to bed.
“If I have anything about my game, really everything going in on my life, I just call him and talk to him, he talks to me, we have a conversation about it,” Dowuona said. “That has been really helpful to me because I don't think without him I'd be here right now. I'd be back home.”
Dowuona, as he often says, won’t lie: he misses his native country “a lot,” and misses his family even more. But in one week, he’ll finally have a chance to visit everyone he has missed so dearly and meet his sister in person.
For the first time since 2014, Dowuona is heading back to Ghana. His first trip back home on his nearly five-year journey he hopes has just begun.