Mercy Ademusayo hasn’t been home since the middle of 2019.
Home for Linden Hall’s senior basketball standout is Benin City, the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ademusayo — all 6-foot-5 of her — has remained tucked away safely in Lititz.
“I was here for two years before I went home the first time,” Ademusayo said. “I’m used to being here now. But it’s tough when I have to call my family and tell them about the situation here, and that I can’t get home.”
A lot has happened since the last time Ademusayo was back in Nigeria, including a life milestone moment: Earlier this fall, Linden Hall’s all-star low-post enforcer accepted a scholarship offer from Northwestern University, where she’ll study sports psychology and play hoops for the Wildcats in the Big Ten Conference.
“There,” second-year Linden Hall coach Ellen Bair said, “she’s going to take it to a whole other level.”
Ademusayo remembers picking up a basketball for the first time back home in Nigeria when she was 12 — and already standing 6-feet tall. Her mom, who is 6-3, sent Mercy to the gym with her younger sister for some Saturday morning rec ball, and one of the coaches approached her about taking up the game.
“My mom said to get out of the house and go do something, so I started playing Saturday mornings,” Ademusayo said. “After like three times there, this one coach could tell that I was interested, and he talked to me about possibly playing on a team. I didn’t like basketball at first. For me, it was just for fun. I didn’t think that I was actually going to leave the country to play.”
After a camp director in Nigeria suggested coming to the United States to study and play basketball, Ademusayo landed at Linden Hall for her freshman year, and she’s come a long, long way since her ninth-grade season on the court.
“Freshman year I didn’t have any confidence at all,” she said. “I was almost timid. Freshman year was just … bad. It was really hard for me. I was homesick a lot and it was tough to adapt. And I was struggling with the game, especially with the 3-second violation rule. It wasn’t until my sophomore year until I got used to everything.”
By her 10th-grade season on the basketball court, Ademusayo started figuring it out, and she began earning more minutes in the Lions’ rotation. She was still raw, but at 6-5, she was a matchup nightmare and impossible to keep off the boards.
“Freshman year I didn’t even want the ball,” Ademusayo said. “I just tried to get to the rim and get rebounds. Making moves to the basket was really hard for me. Now, I have the confidence to do that.”
By the end of last season, when Linden Hall successfully defended its District Three Class 2A championship, Ademusayo was an absolute terror in the post. In the district title game against Steel-High, she lit up the Rollers for 18 points and 11 rebounds on the big stage in Hershey’s Giant Center.
Ademusayo helped the Lions reach the PIAA state quarterfinals for the first time in program history, but that game against Mahanoy Area was canceled when the governor shut everything down because of COVID-19 protocols.
Ademusayo’s success — and her size — led to plenty of college recruiters checking in. Mississippi State, Siena and Manhattan all made the rounds, and when Ademusayo reached out to Northwestern about its sports psychology program, the Wildcats jumped on board and ended up getting her commitment.
“I was always nervous talking to the college coaches,” Ademusayo said. “I’d always freak out. But I was happy when Northwestern got back to us. I was actually surprised because I didn’t think they would. So this is a big weight off my shoulders.”
Ademusayo will still have a lot on her shoulders this winter, as she hopes to lead Linden Hall to a district three-peat, and back to the state playoffs as a major D1 recruit.
“What’s not to love about her?” Bair said. “She’s a great shot-blocker, and she has an insane skill set on the defensive end that makes her so valuable. She’s just so versatile, and I think this will be a big year for her offensively, and I’m excited about that. Priority No. 1 for us will be getting her the ball.”
And why not? It’s safe to say there won’t be many 6-foot-5 kids in the area throwing up a roadblock.
“We’re focused on challenging her this season,” Bair said. “It’s tough when you don’t play against bigger girls regularly. It’s a challenge for her to make different moves or to challenge herself to make more than one move. So we’re challenging her this season, so she’ll be ready to go when she gets to the Big Ten, playing against girls her size.”
For Ademusayo, she’s hoping the next four years are just as rewarding as the last four at Linden Hall.
“I’m really, really excited,” she said. “My plan was to finish high school back home, and then start working. So this is a really big deal for me because I’ll be the first person in my family to go to college. I’m very thankful for that.”