Allen Bediako can be an intimidating character on the basketball court. Shooter after shooter has seen the ball go up, only to be swatted away by the sophomore center, who uses his six-foot, seven-inch height to dominate the action.
So how does a tough guy like Bediako mentally prepare himself for a game? By plugging in his earphones and cranking up some sappy songs by Mariah Carey.
"I might be the only player around who listens to slow music before games," Bediako says with a laugh. "Everyone else has hard-core heavy metal or rap, and I'm in the back listening to love songs."
Bediako's choice of music may seem unconventional for an athlete, but it fits perfectly for a young man who describes himself as easygoing and laid-back--except around the basket.
Last January, he tied a Kenyon record for blocked shots in a single game, rejecting eight attempts by the Allegheny College Gators. He ended his first season of play with a College single-season record of fifty-three blocked shots.
Even with those impressive numbers, Bediako plays with an absence of star-athlete attitude.
"I get a lot of grief from my teammates because they say that after I block a shot I need to scream or hit my chest or something," he said. "They say, 'Allen, scream at the guy, show some emotion.' But I tend to block the shot and then walk off like nothing happened."
One explanation for the low-key style may be that, unlike many other players, he hasn't thought of himself as a basketball player all his life. Growing up in Houston, he didn't play organized basketball until he hit his growth spurt in the eighth and ninth grades. He played on junior varsity teams at his high school in Houston, until he and his mother moved to Pataskala, Ohio, after his sophomore year. He played on the varsity team for the Wellington School his junior year but missed the first half of his senior year because of an ankle injury.
Bediako was impressed that even after his injury, Kenyon coach Matt Croci and his assistants still attended his games and pursued him to play for the Lords. "A lot of coaches backed away from me after my injury, but the Kenyon coaches were pretty persistent."
As a first-year student with much less basketball experience than most of his fellow players, Bediako found that the transition to college ball could be difficult.
"I remember my first game, I was so nervous. I caught the ball early on and bobbled it. And one of the opposing players just grabbed it and took off before I could even compose myself," Bediako says.
But Croci says Bediako was a fast learner and soon earned a role as a starter. The coach expects even more improvement this year.
"Allen is a hard worker, and he is committed to making himself into more than just a shot blocker," Croci said as the Lords prepared for the 2006-07 season late in the fall. "We've already seen in practice this year that he's really improved the offensive part of his game."
While Bediako is developing quickly on the basketball court, Croci has been even more impressed by what he has done off the court.
"The thing about Allen is that there is more to him than just a basketball player," said Croci. "He has other friends off the team, and other interests. He's committed to what we're doing, but does so much more. I feel lucky to coach him."
Bediako tutors kids at Wiggin Street School, for example, volunteering once or twice a week to help the youngsters with math and science. "I thought it would be cool just to help out the kids in the neighborhood," he says. "I'll do whatever the teachers need."
As for his future, Bediako is not sure what type of career he will pursue, but he recently chose to double-major in psychology and economics to give himself plenty of options.
Meanwhile, he expects to swat away a lot more basketballs this season--as soon as "Love Takes Time" finishes playing on his iPod.
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