ALLEGANY – One of the first things Amadi Ikpeze did during his summer internship was pick up the phone and start calling people who were season-ticket holders for St. Bonaventure men’s basketball. He couldn’t text them, or send a video through a popular social media app. He had to harness the power of conversation.
As he sat in the ticket office in the Reilly Center, he had a script that outlined talking points, next to a list of people whose tickets were up for renewal. He noticed a few familiar names. One stood out to him.
“My accounting professor, Brian McAllister,” Ikpeze said. “I had him (freshman) year and I had to ask him if he was going to renew his season tickets.”
So he dialed the number and introduced himself when the professor picked up. They talked about basketball and about the summer. McAllister, who originally wavered as to whether to renew his two season tickets, renewed them later in the summer.
“If he didn’t, then I didn’t do my job,” Ikpeze said, laughing.
The Amherst High graduate jokes that he spent his summer "adulting." He lost nearly 30 pounds to prepare for his senior year with the Bonnies, and he added a few lines to his resume by working up to 20 hours a week in an unpaid internship in the athletic ticket office.
Ikpeze, a former All-Western New York selection and a tri-captain at St. Bonaventure, has averaged 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in four games this season. The Bonnies (1-3) face Canisius (1-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at KeyBank Center.
Last season, Ikpeze averaged 2.7 points and 2.4 rebounds, and played an average of 11 minutes a game in 32 game. Toward the end of the 2018-19 season, Ikpeze realized that he wasn’t putting himself in spot to contribute to the Bonnies. Big men inside need size, but Ikpeze knew the extra weight held him back.
“With the offseason approaching, after we lost in the tournament, I had conversations with my coaching staff and with my family and with myself,” said Ikpeze, who averaged 2.7 points and 2.4 rebounds, and averaged about 11 minutes a game in 2018-19. “Knowing what I wanted to do my senior year, I felt like the end of the season is when I had to step my approach up and get more serious.”
That started with shedding weight. He spent the summer working out in the morning, whether it was lifting weights, doing conditioning drills or shooting basketballs — sometimes taking 500 shots a day.
He took two online classes. He had an internship requirement he had to fulfill, in order to earn a degree in business management with a minor in sports studies, and he spent weekday afternoons in the ticket office.
Sometimes Ikpeze’s teammates noticed him as they walked by the ticket office. Bona guard Kyle Lofton shouted his teammate’s name each time he passed the ticket window, and he noticed Ikpeze didn't always look up. He was talking on the phone.
But then Lofton thought about why Ikpeze was working and how his teammate balanced preparation for basketball with preparation for life after basketball.
“What I thought was, 'He’s realizing what’s going to happen after this year,' ” Lofton said. “Having to do other things on your own. We’ve got coaches now, but having to do everything on your own, real life is going to hit him now. That’s what I took from it.
“It’s important to know what you want to do after basketball, whether it’s coaching or getting a real job. It’s knowing what you want to do and taking advantage of that. And taking a step closer. Focus on basketball, but see what other things are going to happen, in life.”
It was easy for Ikpeze to go to the gym every morning in the summer and to swap out foods like french fries and pizza for fruit and salads. It was harder for him to reach out to strangers, people who watched him play basketball but may have never had a conversation with him.
St. Bonaventure ticket office manager Kathy Parmentier said St. Bonaventure started its season-ticket renewal process in June, at the start of Ikpeze’s internship.
When Ikpeze started cold-calling people, he found that he stuttered a bit when he began to speak to someone who answered the phone.
He didn't say he was a member of the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team, but when he identified himself by name as the caller, he heard the tone of the conversation change. That gave him a certain level of ease.
“They’d say, ‘Oh, I’m so excited for this season!’ or ‘How are you guys going to do this year?’ ” Ikpeze said. “It just turned into a natural conversation. Everybody I talked to was nice.”
Conversation, Parmentier said, came natural to Ikpeze.
“There’s nothing better than having someone come in and say, ‘I want to renew my season tickets,’ and to have one of the players sell those to them,” said Parmentier, who played basketball at Niagara University. “That absolutely helps us.”
McAllister doesn’t remember the conversation he had with his former student, but he said Ikpeze gained vital socialization skills in a world where communication sometimes seems to center around smartphones and tablets.
“It adds to their confidence,” McAllister said. “A lot of kids may not want to talk to adults. If you get them out of their situation and talk to them and make them respond to you, it goes far. You have to do that with students, in general, but if they see themselves talking to adults, that is good for them.”
Ikpeze’s internship concluded at the start of basketball practices in late September. When he stepped on the court and ran drills at the start of practices, he saw himself making quicker decisions on the court and feeling more nimble as he ran through plays.
“I definitely see the progress, and I know that being through it, you get better as the season goes on,” Ikpeze said. “I like where I’m at now, and I know that I’m going to get better down the line.”
On and off the court, he also formed habits that will go beyond basketball. He learned about maintaining his health for life, not just for four years of basketball, and that the discipline and hard work it takes to lose weight is also applicable to excelling in other areas of life.
Each time he sat in the ticket office and made a phone call, he learned more about the art of interaction.
“I really learned people skills,” Ikpeze said. “Learning how to talk to people and interact with them. Customers would come in to purchase tickets and I’d cash them out on the computer, and talk to them. It was doing something other than basketball. I enjoyed it.”