'Anything is possible' - The remarkable story of Ipswich's Veron Eze
In his latest column, Nino Severino shares the remarkable and inspiring story of young Ipswich basketball player Veron Eze.
I’m delighted to say that the Hub at the University of Suffolk will be helping support this exceptional young man, but I have to share his journey with you.
Veron was taken to his first basketball session having one day declared he ‘wanted to be a basketball player when I’m older’ and was duly talent spotted by famed Ipswich head coach Nick Drane.
Having made the Suffolk under 11 and u13 squads, Veron decided to attend Copleston High School so he could be around the basketball academy which Drane runs – a decision which meant a very early wake-up call and two buses just to get to school.
But once there, here was allowed to train with the sixth form players – a remarkable achievement for an 11-year-old.
His competitive career did not start well, at a preseason tournament right before the season started for Ipswich, he tore the tendon that attaches his bone to his knee, a nasty injury.
His reaction was key, and shaped the strong mindset he’d need later in his career. Having bounced back, Veron’s impressive play eventually saw him make history as the youngest-ever player to play for the senior men’s side at Ipswich Basketball Club, aged just 14.
He was then picked for the under 15 England side – but disaster struck.
Veron badly injured his leg competing for Copleston in the English Schools National Athletics Championship, as his mum Michelle recalled:
“Veron sobbed his heart out for the first time, he said ‘I can’t go away and play for England now’, and at this point I had to be Veron’s strength and did my best to remain positive and explain it’s just a minor setback.”
The teenager had torn his quad from his pelvis, causing a chip to his bone in the process, and was bed-ridden for three very painful weeks. Michelle told me: “He was heartbroken, at this point he felt like it was the end of his world, he was only 14, had an amazing year of achievements in basketball and playing for England was the biggest goal.”
Veron refused to let the setback deter him, laying in bed throwing a basketball in the air, telling his mum: “I can still work on my shots from bed!”
After six months away recovering, Veron was back and – after another minor setback from a broken wrist – he played for England in a major tournament, leading them in scoring.
Next came an offer to join a top basketball academy in Rome, and a call-up to the GB under-16 squad. Still though, fate was not finished with him.
Michelle said: “Less than a month before the final GB selection, I picked Veron up from a training camp and he was complaining about a headache.
“Veron never complains about pain, I took him back to the hospital where they X-rayed him and told us he needed to go in for an emergency operation on his eye, as an infection had burst through into his eye socket which had caused an abscess, called Orbital Cellulitis.
“The doctor explained there was a chance he may have lost his vision in that eye due to damage from the abscess, but we could only wait and see.
“I remember Veron saying ‘I may as well give up now’, and it did feel like every time he had a great opportunity, something really knocked him back. But he didn’t give up, and we spent the week in hospital trying to remain positive and I remember saying ‘If you have lost your sight then you can aim to become the best Paralympic basketball player.”
Luckily, Veron recovered again, played for Team GB in the European Championships and headed off to Rome.
His amazing story has now gone full loop, as he’s back in Ipswich to spend the next two years studying and playing for IBA Ipswich Basketball Academy and the senior men’s team.
Now the goal is to get scouted and offered a scholarship to play Division One College Basketball in America – and as he’s proved time and time again, don’t bet against Veron!
As we finished our chat, I asked Michelle what it was like being a mum to an elite athlete.
She said: “There’s a Kanye West song that has the lyrics “Before I had it, I closed my eyes and imagined”. We used to play that song in the car on our long journeys and I truly feel that’s where it all begins.
“Let your kids dream big, no matter how unrealistic you might think they are, support them anyway, enjoy the journey, don’t judge it by its distance and anything is possible.”