WOLFVILLE, N.S. - By John DeCoste '77 - Basketball has taken Maiwan (Junior) Moaku-Matia to a lot of destinations over the years, but the 6'6" fifth-year wing player says he has found a home at Acadia.
"I really like it here," says Moaku-Matia, who arrived at Acadia in the fall of 2017 and first played for the basketball Axemen at the tail end of the 2017-2018 regular season and through the playoffs and the U-Sports Final Eight. "I like the town, the people, and the fans are really engaged and supportive."
Born in Montreal, Moaku-Matia is a true 'Junior', and is best known by that nickname. He lived in Montreal until he was seven when his family moved to Hamilton, ON.
He attended Academie Catholique Mere-Teresa, a French Roman Catholic high school in Hamilton. He is bilingual (French and English), and at first, "spoke English with a Quebec accent."
Asked if height runs in his family, he replied, "my mom is 5'9 or 5'10. Dad is around 6'2", and I have a brother 6'3"." Somewhat ironically given the height he has grown to, basketball wasn't his first sport.
"I grew up playing baseball in Montreal with my brother. I tried volleyball and soccer, and skateboarded until my feet got too big for the board." He started playing basketball "in a house league when I was in Grade 5. I'm 23 now, so I've been playing for 12 years."
Moaku-Matia was recruited to Hope Academy, a prep school in Chicago, for his final year of high school. From there, he was recruited to Iowa Central Community College where he spent two years and earned an accounting diploma.
While in Chicago, "I had aspirations of playing (NCAA) D-1 basketball. Everything was on path until I broke the big toe on my left foot. Coaches who were interested in me wanted to see more, so I rushed my recovery, and never did get back to 100 per cent."
While he liked it at Iowa Central, he found that in basketball terms, "it wasn't for me." He decided to "come home to Canada looking to turn a new page." His former high school coach "knew I was looking for something new," and with his help, Moaku-Matia started investigating other universities.
He "considered a couple of schools" and finally settled on Cape Breton University. "They had a new coach (Dave Petroziello), and looked to be a team on the rise," so he committed to CBU.
He spent the 2016-2017 season at Cape Breton, but again, "it didn't really work out" for him. "I still have a lot of respect for CBU. It's a good school, with a good fan base." On the court, though, the Capers went winless in their 20 regular season games. "I wasn't the only one who decided to move on."
The summer he left Iowa, he had met Luc Stevenson at a basketball camp. The two stayed in contact, and when Moaku-Matia came to Wolfville with CBU, he found Stevenson was an Axemen assistant coach, "I got him to speak with Coach Duffie, and he contacted me."
Acadia was already on Moaku-Matia's radar. "The first time I played here (with the Capers), it was my first time visiting Wolfville. There was a big crowd, and they had a ceremony recognizing African-Canadian student-athletes. I was impressed by that. I thought I'd like playing here, and attending a school with fans who were engaged and had respect for their past African-Canadian athletes."
Moaku-Matia transferred to Acadia knowing he would have to sit out until he was eligible to play. Rather than miss the entire 2017-2018 season, he made the decision to play as soon as he was eligible.
"I decided to play at the end of last year," he says, even though it would mean using up a year of eligibility. "I felt we had a good shot at contending (in the conference), and we knew we were hosting nationals. I decided to do it rather than spend the rest of my life wondering 'what if?'"
He ended up playing five regular season games, two of them against Cape Breton. In his first Axemen game, a 104-96 overtime loss at Saint Mary's, he had 22 points and seven rebounds in 38 minutes.
In his five games, Moaku-Matia had 46 points and 29 rebounds. Acadia won three of the five to finish fourth in the regular season with a 15-5 record. The Axemen lost their playoff quarterfinal to St.F.X, then were a competitive 1-2 at nationals to end up sixth in the country.
This season, Moaku-Matia has been in the starting lineup for all but one of Acadia's first seven games, scoring 108 points and grabbing 45 rebounds. He has been among the more effective Axemen, averaging just over 14 points and six rebounds per game.
Acadia had won just one of its first seven games, but Moaku-Matia says, "I like our team. We've been having troubles winning, but I'm hoping we can turn things around after Christmas."
The Axemen, he says, "need to learn how to win, make winning plays and winning decisions." The team "needs to focus on getting better (as a group) instead of on being good."
The fifth-year senior says he "has put a lot of thought into it. We have the talent to be the best team in (the AUBC) come March. We need to meet and surpass our potential, and we need to do it as a group," one step – and one game – at a time.
Moaku-Matia is studying business at Acadia, but is not specializing beyond that. "At Iowa, I graduated with an accounting diploma, so I don't need to specialize here." He hopes to graduate in the spring of 2019 and would like to try his hand at maybe playing basketball professionally.
As well, as an extracurricular sideline, he has started a small company whose aim is to create greater awareness of mental health issues. "In researching the field," he says, "I've come to realize that it takes a community, and an effort from everybody, to raise a child." Calling his enterprise 'Save Me, Save We', he has T-shirts for sale, with "part of the profits being donated to a mental health clinic."
He points out, "one in five people will suffer from mental health issues – possibly some of my teammates, maybe even me. Every day, I encounter people who are experiencing problems and aren't prepared to talk about it. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about problems we're having.
"Once the threshold of your mental health is affected," he says, "it's like a physical injury. It takes time to heal, and the more you prolong it, the longer it takes."
The idea for 'Save Me, Save We', he says, "came to me around May of last year. Over the summer, I realized it was something I should be pursuing more heavily." He has ordered his first batch of shirts, and has begun "promoting it more." He sees it as "a way I can give something back."
There is, he says, "a lot of stress to being a student-athlete." At one point during his time at Iowa Central, "I was taking eight courses. I was overwhelmed by my workload, and it was starting to affect my performance," both on the court and in the classroom.
Moaku-Matia has no regrets over his choice to come to Acadia, just as he has no regrets at his decision to use up a year of eligibility by choosing to play down the stretch and in the playoffs last season.
He is hoping basketball-wise, the second half of his final year will be more positive than the first half has been. "I know things will turn around," he says. He acknowledges it likely won't be easy, but says, "I've never been one to settle for easy."