He knew his acceptance into the Dayton Flyers “True Team” was complete when Archie Miller looked at him and said one word:
“They call me Love — L-O-V-E,” Jeremiah Bonsu, the end-of-the-bench guard said with a smile. “Darrell Davis started it last year and then when we were at VCU, he and Scoochie and Kendall all thought up a song about it. They were just doing a beat and then Kendall started singing it. And then finally Coach Miller called me that.
“At first I didn’t like the name, but after a while I figured it kinda had a ring to it. Whatever it means, I’ll take it. When you have a nickname with the team it means you fit in with the guys.”
And this is a real L-O-V-E story — the kind where opposites attract.
The Dayton Flyers, 9-2 going onto tonight’s game with Arkansas at UD Arena, have made a splash in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. An Elite Eight appearance in 2014 was followed up by a Round of 32 showing last March.
Bonsu, on the other hand, was cut from the basketball team as a freshman at Pickerington North High School. He was cut again as a sophomore and once more as a junior. He finally made the team as a senior though he played sparingly and scored one point all year.
At UD, the 5-foot-11, 150-pound junior — although he says ignore the program, he’s 6-feet and 160 —tried to make the Flyers as a walk-on last season but was cut. He ended up as a student manager, just as he had been his first three seasons at Pickerington North.
But when the already-decimated Flyers lost one more player last season (walk-on guard William Dupuy to a knee injury), coaches gave Bonsu a uniform and had him sit on the bench when the team played at Saint Louis on Feb. 10.
Since then he’s remained part of the team. He wears No. 14 and it’s safe to say he’s unlike any other UD player — including guys like Don Donoher, Gene Klaus, Johnny Davis, Dan Christie and London Warren — who has worn that number.
Although Bonsu has yet to get into a game for the Flyers, he is the best trash talker on the team, said point guard Scoochie Smith.
“I am the best you ever seen,” Bonsu confirmed with a grin.
He also claimed — and with tongue not as firmly planted in his cheek as you’d think — that he’s “the best shooter on the team.”
Smith had to laugh at that one and shook his head: “I’ll give him one of two. He is a good trash talker. But I wouldn’t say he’s the best shooter. Maybe he thinks so. He has a lot of confidence.”
Another thing of which there’s no debate: He has the best Twitter account on the team. He’s sent out over 52,100 tweets and they encompass everything from sports to social issues. He’s not afraid to tackle hot button issues like guns, religion or immigration.
“I got some of that from my sister Janice,” he said quietly. “She’s the smartest person I know. She went to Johns Hopkins and now she’s at Penn. She told me, ‘You can’t be about just basketball. You have a platform, use it for more than just sports. Don’t waste your time.”
‘Such a good attitude’
Bonsu’s parents grew up in Ghana and have become an immigration success story.
“I know for a fact where I got my drive and my work ethic from,” he said. “It’s my parents.”
Some 25 years ago his dad, George Adusei-Bonsu, came to America to attend the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Two years later he said his mom, Naana Frempong — along with his older brother Gilbert — arrived from Ghana.
He told how his mom first worked in home health care when she got here, ended up going to nursing school and today teaches nursing at Capital University in Bexley, outside on Columbus.
The youngest of the three children, Jeremiah was born in Newark, N.J. and lived there and in New York until the family moved to Ohio when he was in seventh grade.
By then he was embracing basketball and when he came to Pickerington North as a freshman and was cut from the team he said he surprised the coaches by immediately asking if he could be the manager.
The same thing happened sophomore and junior year, though he now admits he “actually hated” being the manager.
He said he had understood being bypassed his first two seasons but thought he was good enough to have made the team as a junior.
“Only my closest friends knew I didn’t like being the manager, but I wanted to be there close enough to see what the coaches liked and didn’t like,” he said. “I wanted to learn the plays and anything else I could. It was kind of like a plot to get into position to make the team.”
Once he got to UD, he said he began to hang out at The Rec (Fitness and Recreation Complex) playing basketball. It’s where he met eventual fellow walk-on Joey Gruden.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this guy isn’t fazed one bit by all my trash talking,” Bonsu said. “We became friends — he’s my best friend on the team now and also one of the nicest guys — but for the first three months I didn’t even know what his last name was.
“Finally someone said, ‘Hey, that kid is Jay Gruden’s son,’ and I said, ‘No he’s not. That’s Joey.’ “
Along the way, Bonsu said, Christy Macioce, a scholarship player on the UD women’s team who graduated with him at Pickerington North, would bring him along to the Cronin Center gym to shoot around.
By the end of his freshman year he said he was sitting one day at The Rec with Gruden, who suggested they both try to walk onto the UD team. The following year Gruden made it, but Bonsu did not.
Once again he chose the manager path — he wanted to observe Archie Miller, too, because one day he wants to coach — and his big break came later that season.
“He started off in our program as a practice manager and he was about willing to do anything,” Miller said. “As our season turned out, we needed more guys to help us and we gave him a practice uniform. He had such a good attitude that it just felt right to keep him with us after that.”
Just kept trying
Over the years Bonsu said everybody from his parents to his high school friends to the guys he lives with here in an off-campus house have wondered why he has stuck with basketball when he was either getting cut or, once on the team, not getting to play.
“For me it was one of those things where I have an issue if I don’t get something,” he said. “I just keep trying. Even in high school I told my friends: ‘Look, I’m gonna go out again senior year and if I get cut again, well, time just ran out on me. I tried my hardest.’
“But so far in my life I’ve always made the deadline no matter how many times it took. I found out if you work hard and don’t quit, something good can happen.”
His tweet Dec. 5 summed it up:
“Them doors that was always closed. I ripped the doors. Took the hinges off.”
That attitude is admired by the other Flyers — hence the nickname and song — and he’s been saluted by some of the students in the Arena’s Red Scare section who hold up a big Fathead likeness of him at games.
“The guys on the team really have a good time with him and he’s good for our program,” Miller said. “He’s got such a positive attitude and I’ve found the more good people you have around you, the better off you are. A guy like that, hopefully one day he can check into a game for you.”
And should he finally get in, has Bonsu ever fantasized about what he’d do?
He started to smile:
“Yeah, I keep having this dream. I’m in the game, me and the other walk-ons, and I get a steal and a breakaway. But instead of shooting the layup, I pass the ball to Joey so he gets his first points first. I’d get the assist and he’d get the score. That would only be right.”
No wonder they L-O-V-E this guy.