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By Rob Gray
AMES - Daniel Edozie faced a stark choice.
Family, or food.
At 12 years old, impoverished, in a new country, and constantly pushing an old shopping cart full of luggage on the perilous streets of Los Angeles, the future Iowa State power forward saw his mother trudge ahead.
He stopped, gazed at a Salvation Army emergency shelter, and made a stand.
“I hadn't eaten all day,” the first-year Cyclone reserve said of his remarkable odds-defying journey that spans two continents, a partially lost childhood and a powerful, unshakeable spirit of survival. “We were walking and we had passed up (the shelter). I asked my mom, ‘Can I get something to eat?' She said, ‘No. we've got to get back to that shelter in San Fernando.' I said, ‘Mom, I'm hungry, I haven't eaten all day.' … She keeps on walking. I stopped and I just go right in.”
Shelters - and homelessness - formed the fractured architecture of their life in the United States in 2004 and 2005.
Daniel's mother had obtained short-term visas to enter the U.S. from their native London, England.
They sought a more secure life and instead fell to the fringe of society.
They overstayed their visas by several months and joined a homeless population in Los Angeles now estimated to number at about 57,735 according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report - or a few thousand short of the total population of Ames, according to 2012 U.S. Census data.
“Poverty, drug dealing … it was a lot of bad influences that I was surrounded by,” said Edozie, who eventually entered foster care and earned permanent U.S. resident status. “I took something negative and made a positive: Seeing what's not the right way to live and not wanting to be a part of that.”
One example of many: One night while wandering the streets hungry and alone, a man offered to buy Edozie a meal at a nearby Denny's.
“Must have had the biggest meal I ever had,” he said.
But the apparent random act of kindness concealed an ulterior motive.
“This dude had a plan behind this whole deal,” Edozie said. “He was trying to get me to be a part of prostitution. I was like, ‘Wow, not interested.'”
After evading vultures like that, facing the Kansas Jayhawks - whom the Cyclones (15-3, 3-3 Big 12) play Wednesday at Lawrence - suddenly seems far less daunting.
It also puts hoops squarely in perspective.
Edozie - who's also a self-taught piano impresario -didn't start playing basketball until after he'd been discovered by police, obtained an immigration attorney who secured his resident status, and settled into family life with his foster mother and her family.
He first touched a basketball in seventh grade and It wasn't love at first shot.
“I was a baby,” Edozie said. “I was just learning the game, but I eventually fell in love with it and I use basketball as a vehicle now. Come to finds the vehicle has led me to where I am today: Iowa State. Cyclone nation, you know?”
First, Edozie wound through Tyler (Texas) Community College.
The 6-8, 245-pound junior joined ISU this season and serves as an eraser when called upon, averaging 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 7.4 minutes per game.
He's still raw, Cyclones Coach Fred Hoiberg said, but a powerful force both in practice and in games.
“He's a brick wall,” Hoiberg said. “He's just a world-class kid. He's all about the right things.”
For good reason.
Edozie grew up long ago.
“As 12 years old, you're a man by yourself,” said Edozie, whose mother was eventually deported to England, but they remain in touch. “It's very early to be a man, I guess you could say.”
None of which evinces bitterness.
Edozie's grateful to his mother for trying to keep him safe, despite her occasional unexplained absences.
He's well-adjusted, even though he could have framed his existence in rage and helplessness - and forces adjustments from his teammates every time he takes the practice floor.
“It's fun to play against him,” said ISU star Melvin Ejim, “because he challenges you.”
True strength doesn't always translate to minutes, but it needs no quantifier.
Edozie's simply solid; driven not so much by the past, but by who he's become.
“Things happen for a reason,” he said. “No matter what battle you face, there's always a way to overcome it.”