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Amaechi, John (b. 1970)  
 
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An accident almost brought a swift and sudden end to Amaechi's basketball career. While on a school field trip, he was reaching to open a plate-glass door but put his right hand through it. When the pane of glass collapsed, his arm was nearly severed at the wrist. It was only after some nine months of operations and rehabilitation therapy that he regained the use of it.

Meanwhile, Forber stood by the injured youngster, encouraging him to stay active and having him do drills with his left hand. As a result, Amaechi developed a high degree of ambidexterity, which would prove an asset to his game. More important, though, was the confidence that he gained from having a mentor who had faith in him.

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Once Amaechi was back in shape and on the court again, he dreamed of a career not just in basketball, but in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States. Since he was unknown to American college coaches, it was highly unlikely that he would be considered for a scholarship, and without one his mother could not afford the tuition rates that he would incur as a foreign student. They therefore decided that he should attend his last year of high school in the United States so that he might be recruited for a college team.

Dr. Amaechi insisted on finding a school with a top-flight academic program as well as a good athletic department. The chosen high school was St. John's Jesuit in Toledo, Ohio. Amaechi was impressed by the basketball coach, Ed Heintschel, whom he found similar to Forber in his supportive and encouraging attitude.

As the Amaechis had hoped, young John's performance as a high-school basketballer drew the attention of college coaches. Among the many who expressed interest in signing him was Bobby Knight of the perennial powerhouse Indiana University. Although Amaechi knew that Knight "only recruited the very best," he was not tempted by the offer. His early experiences in sports had led him to dislike "screamer coaches," and Knight, whose temperamental outbursts are legendary, certainly fit that description.

"Joe [Forber] and Ed [Heintschel] showed me there was a more humane, respectful way to get to the same place," writes Amaechi. "Winning really was everything, but only if it was accomplished honorably."

Amaechi chose to go to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee after "a particularly good [recruiting] visit" with Coach Eddie Fogler. Once Amaechi was on campus, however, the relationship deteriorated. Fogler gave Amaechi little court time in games and, far from offering encouragement, eventually told him that he was not good enough to play in Division I.

In view of the situation, Amaechi transferred to Pennsylvania State University, which proved a much better fit for him. Although under the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association he had to sit out a "red-shirt" year before he was able to play in games, he practiced with the team and was pleased by the more congenial atmosphere and the helpful guidance of his coaches, trainers, and teammates.

At Penn State, Amaechi, who knew the importance of mentors in young people's lives, became one himself, joining the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization to work with troubled children. Because of his diligent efforts to help his "little brothers" develop into responsible citizens, the police chief of the city of State College invited him to be part of a civic panel whose aim was to decrease truancy, and a local high school chose him as their commencement speaker. Eventually Amaechi's work had national exposure when the ESPN television network filmed a piece about him and his young charges.

Football has long been by far the most important sport at Penn State, but during Amaechi's years there in the mid-1990s, the basketball team enjoyed a fair degree of success. Amaechi, as their star center, became a campus celebrity. In the spring of 1995, his senior year, the team made it to the Final Four of the National Invitational Tournament.

Even as Amaechi was enjoying the adulation of basketball fans, he was facing a personal tragedy: when he was beginning his junior year, his beloved "Mum," after eight years of remission from breast cancer, suffered a recurrence of the disease, and this time the prognosis was terminal. Although she was frail, later that year Dr. Amaechi made a trip to State College and was able to see her son excel on the basketball court. The following spring Amaechi received an urgent call to come home because she was failing. He was at her side when she died at only fifty years of age.

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