Eugene Omoruyi’s face brightened up when asked about his teammate, Chris Duarte.

 “That’s my brother,” Omoruyi said. 

Omoruyi and Duarte have a ton in common. They are both Canadian, even though Omoruyi knows more about the country’s history than Duarte. They both continue the tradition of Canadians playing for the Oregon Ducks, succeeding players such as Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher. They share the lead for Oregon’s scoring, both averaging 16.7 points per game. 

After spending three years at Rutgers, the small forward relishes the opportunity to play in his inaugural NCAA Tournament with the Ducks. 

“He’s all about winning,” said Oregon Ducks head coach Dana Altman. “He’s all about the team. That’s what coaches value and what people at the next level value. They want winners. They want guys that will do whatever it takes to help the team win.” 

Omoruyi is one of 25 Canadians competing in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Born in Benin City, Nigeria, Eugene, and his mother, Jane-Edo, emigrated to Canada when he was a one-year-old, searching for a better life. His father, Frank, arrived three years later, with Eugene’s baby sister. Growing up in Rexdale, Ontario, Omoruyi considered himself Nigerian-Canadian. He’s grateful to Canada for its diverse culture, easing the transition for his family. 

“When it comes to immigration, Canada allows for a lot of cultures to come through,” Omoruyi said on the Mighty Oregon Podcast. “Once Nigerians found out about Canada, they welcomed us with open arms.” 

“When I saw the Ducks offer me [the spot on the team], I just grabbed on the opportunity,” Omoruyi said. “With such a great Canadian pipeline, I just wanted to be a part of the journey.” 

Omoruyi and his family learned English. But inside their home, they maintained their Nigerian customs and traditions. Eugene spoke his native language, Edo, while eating staple foods in Nigerian cuisine. 

“We ate Jollof rice, fried rice, Fufu, yams, so many different foods,” Omoruyi remembers. “Enjoying that food made me physical and strong. It gives you a lot of strength.” 

Omoruyi’s love affair with sports began on the soccer pitch, before transitioning to the hardwood. He started playing basketball as a sophomore in high school, playing for the coveted Orangeville Prep program. While he was there, he played alongside future NBA players Thon Maker and Jamal Murray. As Omoruyi explains, being a part of Orangeville Prep prepared him for what to expect playing college basketball. 

“It really helped me develop my game and instill more confidence,” Omoruyi said. “It prepares the mindset before going to college.”

As a senior, Omoruyi earned player and defensive player of the year honours, as Orangeville won the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association Championship. In addition to playing at Orangeville, Omoruyi also participated in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) for the Advantage Titans. D-I schools began to look closely at Omrouyi, because of his versatility at both ends of the floor. 

“He’s extremely physical,” said Titans head coach Chris Smalling to 247Sports. “The first time he came up for our squad and we told him to bump the cutters, he almost took a guy’s head off. He’s that physical.”

“The first time you see him play, you’ll notice how physical he is, how aggressive he is. As he goes along, you’ll realize that he does the other things. He has the intangibles.”

“Eugene was very, very lethal.”

Ro Russell, who coaches the Canadian AAU team Grassroots, remembers taking on Omoruyi when he was a junior in high school. He recalls Eugene being a versatile, athletic player who was upcoming in Canada. 

“Eugene was very, very lethal,” Russell said. “He can shoot the three, flash to the basket, make that pass, dunk off the rebound. You have to be aware of where he is all the time.” 

Omoruyi committed to Rutgers after his high school career. While with the Scarlet Knights, he started slow, averaging 7.9 points per game as a sophomore. Over the offseason, Omoruyi spent countless hours in the gym, improving his shot. As a junior, the hard work paid off on the court. Omoruyi posted double-digit point totals in 22 games, averaging 13.8 and 7.2 rebounds per game, earning the forward All-Big Ten honours. 

After three years at Rutgers, Omoruyi decided to enter the transfer portal to find a better opportunity to improve his game. That led him to Coach Altman’s program at Oregon, which continues to develop young Canadian talent.

“When I saw the Ducks offer me [the spot on the team], I just grabbed on the opportunity,” Omoruyi said. “With such a great Canadian pipeline, I just wanted to be a part of the journey.” 

Due to the NCAA transfer rules, Omoruyi had to sit out last year. The Ducks were Pac-12 regular-season champions in 2020 (24-7 record) before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the conference and NCAA tournaments.  

Being a redshirt last year motivates Omoruyi to play his best basketball this season. 

“Last year, we didn’t get to see what he could really do,” Altman said. “We didn’t get him back until September but he’s worked hard at his game. He’s worked at becoming more of a perimeter player. He’s taken a lot more threes this year so he’s worked to develop that and improve his shot selection.” 

Omoruyi led the team in scoring this season while increasing three-point shooting attempts and efficiency (38.4 percent from three). As a result, Omoruyi received All Pac-12 first-team honours. Altman said that while he is impressed with Omoruyi’s offense, he’s looking for him to improve his ball-handling skills if he wants to take the next step in his development. 

“I think he’s about a year away with his ball skills,” Altman said. “He’s very close to being a big three man who can put the ball on the floor because he can guard a lot of different positions.”  

The Ducks will rely on Omoruyi as they take on the pesky VCU Rams Saturday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Rams know what it takes to win in March; 10 years ago, VCU advanced to the Final Four, becoming the first school to advance to the National Semifinals from the play-in round. The Rams are the second-best team in the country in turnover percentage, posting a 13.1 percent rate. 

This Oregon team is different than the team that made it to the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed two years ago. In large part, it’s thanks to Eugene Omoruyi. He leads a team filled with talented shooters and wing players, looking to outplay opponents with their ability to score. The Ducks rank 16th in offensive efficiency and 19th in three-point percentage (37.9 percent), with six players recording a pace from beyond the arc of 36 percent or better. 

If the Ducks can play a fast, up-tempo brand of basketball, they will make life difficult for their opponents. 

“Playing my game and making reads,” Omoruyi said on what he needs to do against VCU. “I’m good at making reads. I just need to get on the corner, make reads and pick the angle that I need to take.” 

There will be plenty of eyes on Omoruyi, particularly in his home country of Canada. One of the observers will be Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors and Canada’s national men’s basketball team. Nurse has all the times for the 25 Canadians playing in the tournament and is excited to see how they react to playing on the big stage. 

“We have 25 Canadians suiting up this week in the NCAA Tournament, along with our 22 NBA and two-way players. It shows some incredible excitement surrounding young Canadian players playing right now,” Nurse said in a Zoom media availability to reporters. 

The bright lights and high-stakes games don’t bother Omoruyi. He likes to play on national TV, where lots of people are watching. Omoruyi dreams of making it to the NBA, so he can give back to his family, who afforded him the opportunities to pursue a basketball career. Omoruyi never loses sight of his Canadian and Nigerian heritage, both of which value family and education, and how he can use his platform to make the lives of those back in Nigeria better.

The NCAA Tournament is a prime stage for Omoruyi. A chance to be a part of an Oregon team eager to show why it belongs among the best teams in the country.