Long journey leads to leadership role for Brown's Cedric Kuakumensah
When asked to reflect on his nearly four years at Brown, Cedric Kuakumensah referred to his experience at the Ivy League institution as having been a “long journey.”
He meant that in the most rewarding of ways. Yet, little could compare to the journey he took as a three-year-old when his family left the West African country of Togo. Kuakumensah’s mother, Dope’, wanted her children to be educated in the United States. So the family moved to Worcester, Mass., where Cedric had relatives, to begin anew.
“From what I gather the school system (in Togo) is a little corrupt and my mom did not feel it would be a good situation for my siblings and me,” said Kuakumensah. “She wanted to put us in the best situation possible.”
Putting Kuakumensah in the best situation also meant changing high schools. He started at North High, located within Worcester’s inner city. Not feeling as though that was the best setting with which to prepare for college, his parents decided it was best to transfer and go away from home.
Kuakumensah packed his bags and left for St. Andrew’s School, in Warrington, R.I., about an hour from Worcester. It is where Kuakumensah spent his junior and senior years and where his road to Brown was paved.
“I would not say Worcester was a bad place, but there were a lot of distractions,” said the National Honor Society member and team captain both years at St. Andrew’s. “My parents wanted me to leave Worcester and experience something else. It was done more so that when I came home I would have a greater appreciation for home and that being on my own would help shape me as a person. I am very thankful for what they did.”
Kuakumensah is among those nominated for the 2015-16 Senior Class Award, which focuses on Division I seniors that have “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” While attending Brown he has spent a good amount of time visiting schools and helping the less fortunate.
“It is certainly an honor to be nominated for that award,” he said. “We work with local high schools, middle schools and elementary schools for things like reading week. Sometimes we take part in class cleanups, neighborhood cleanups and soup kitchens. They all have been great experiences.”
It can be a daunting experience for an opponent to go up against the 6-9, 245-pound Kuakumensah. Early in Brown’s game at Georgetown on Dec. 7 he became the Ivy League’s all-time leader in blocked shots. He heads into Friday’s game on ASN against visiting Princeton with 274 blocks.
“I was underselling it a little bit to myself and then my mom told me to think about all the points that I potentially prevented,” he said of the record. “It does add up to over 500 points and it is crazy when you think about it that way.”
Kuakumensah, who also scores plenty of points — he recorded his 1,000th career point last Friday in a home loss to Yale — as well as prevents them, leads the Ancient Eight in blocked shots (2.4), is second in league rebounding (10.1) and eighth in scoring (13.8). Last season he averaged 2.5 blocks to lead the league.
Perhaps more impressive than his production on the court are the intangibles he brings to the Bears. His maturity and competitive nature are such that Kuakumensah was named a team captain as a sophomore.
“I was a little bit surprised, but I was more concerned about how other guys, especially those older than me, would handle me getting on them and giving them instruction,” he said of his feeling at that time. “I think the older guys definitely understood and it did not faze them to have a captain younger than them. I am very thankful for them in making it an easy transition for me.”
His style of leadership is one that has been easy for teammates to embrace.
“Most people would not classify me as a vocal leader,” he said. “I am a follow-my-lead type of person and I just work hard every day. I think other players see that, pick up their effort and try not to fall behind.”
Falling behind has never been an issue for Kuakumensah, who graduates in the spring. As much as anything the business economics major has been inspired by the level of academics and diversity the university has presented him since arriving in the summer of 2012.
“It has been very challenging and I am very appreciative of that,” he said. “Brown has challenged me in ways that I did not think I could be challenged. I have experienced (the campus diversity) and that in itself builds character.”
Character is something Kuakumensah possesses plenty of. When combining that with the success he has enjoyed on and off the court it might be wise for a younger student-athletes to seek advice.
“Definitely too just keep working because it is all about the work you put in,” he said. “What you put into it is what you will get out of it. I cannot stress that enough. Work as hard as you can and the results will come eventually.”
Above: Earlier this season Cedric Kuakumensah became the Ivy League's all-time leader in blocked shots. (Courtesy Brown Athletics)