CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The kid has gravity. People want to be around him, not because he’s special but because he goes out of his way to make them feel special.
That was the overwhelming impression Zena Edosomwan left on John Carroll, his coach at Northfield Mount Hermon.
“He has no air about him,” Carroll said. “I think a lot of kids who are recognized for having special talents sometimes separate themselves from the community they live in. He did the opposite, he was a friend to every kid on campus. There wasn’t a social group that he didn’t participate in. He loves to hug, to put an arm around you and bring you in.”
Needing to raise his SAT scores to qualify for Harvard, Zena (pronounced ZEN-uh) passed on dozens of offers from high-major schools like Cal, Texas and UCLA and decided to enroll at NMH for a postgrad year after four years at Harvard Westlake High School in Studio City, Calif.
Getting to Cambridge was that important to him.
“Well, I would say first off, it’s Harvard,” Edosomwan said with a laugh before practice on Tuesday, about why he rejected the other schools that wanted him. “It was one of those types of things, as I was getting recruited I just kind of looked at it as more of a student and not just basketball but life after basketball. And I felt like this was one of those places where I could definitely excel on and off the court. Not only was it a good academic school, but it was also where the program was going.”
The fact Edosomwan is in Cambridge at all says something about where Amaker’s program is going. The 6-foot-9, 245-pounder is arguably the most highly touted recruit ever to land at Harvard, ranked as high as No. 76 nationally by Scout.com and No. 82 nationally by Rivals.com.
Scouting reports cite his work ethic, his ability to finish above the rim in transition and his determination as strong points.
Carroll said that before Edosomwan got to NMH, they talked about his plans for the year. He had big goals -- on the court and in the classroom.
“One of the reasons he chose Northfield Mount Hermon, he wanted to be prepared as a student to achieve at Harvard. He never said ‘I want to make it at Harvard,’ he said ‘I want to achieve,’ ” Carroll said. “He had big aspirations with the basketball. We talked about winning a national championship the summer before he got there, and we did.”
Edosomwan averaged 12.9 points and 10.7 rebounds a game at NMH, upping his point production during the National Prep Championships to 15.3 ppg.
Carroll was impressed by the power forward’s approach.
“I think any one kid can mess up a team, and any one kid can, like, allow their ego to offer an opportunity to lose focus on the group’s mission,” he said. “And for somebody who’s touted as highest recruit in Ivy League history, that could’ve happened at our school and our team.
“He wasn’t the high scorer every night and that was fine. Whatever the game was offering him, he took it. Some days that meant grabbing a bunch of rebounds, other days it meant being a defensive stopper and other days it meant taking real charge on the offensive end.”
“We always are striving for the incoming kids to embrace a work ethic and a willingness to fit in,” Amaker said. “I think when we get those two components out of our incoming guys we’re very happy and think they’re gonna fit in very well.”
His teammates are more effusive about the chances Edosomwan makes an immediate impact.
“Zena’s come in strong,” junior big man Kenyatta Smith said. “He’s been an absolute monster, everything we need him to be. Another true post presence, very skilled, very talented, you really can’t compensate for his frame and his strength out in the post.
“I think he has been making enough of an impact to the point where we know that he needs to be on the floor contributing," Smith added. "There are veterans that are ahead of him, but he’s becoming an essential part of our team, so he will definitely play a role in getting us where we need to go.”
While Amaker wouldn't get into specifics on the team’s goals for this season, Smith didn’t hesitate when asked what the Crimson’s goals are.
“To [get to] the NCAA tournament, as far as we can go,” he said. “Farther than last year.”
Edosomwan watched from afar in March as Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders led Harvard to the program’s first NCAA tournament win (over No. 3 seed New Mexico in the second round). The freshman said he was happy for his new teammates, and didn’t feel any jealousy about not being a part of that historic moment.
That moment was theirs, and he’s confident that other moments will come.
“For me, that was important to say, ‘Hey, I could be part of a legacy. Something that’s building up very strong at Harvard,’” Edosomwan said. “Maybe 10 years down the line, look back and say, ‘Hey, I was a part of the first couple guys. Just like how Coach Amaker and Johnny Dawkins were a couple of the first guys to start Duke basketball.’ For me that was very enticing and very different. I’m very excited to be here.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.