In the spring of 2019, Victor Uyaelunmo was trying to figure out the next step. The 7-footer had spent the previous two seasons getting limited playing time at the University of Southern California, which led him to enter the transfer portal.
He had numerous opportunities, but one stuck out for him. His younger brother, Solomon, had just finished his freshman year at Towson. The duo had won a Florida Class 5A state championship together at Cavalry Christian Academy, but this was a rare opportunity to play sports with one another at the Division I level. Victor committed to Towson, reuniting him with Solomon.
“My brother being here was a huge reason why I came,” Victor said. “He was a huge part. I didn’t know much about Towson before I committed here.”
Solomon of course, was also on board.
“For me, it was like, ‘Why go somewhere else when you could actually come to Towson?'” he said. “It’s a good situation and you’re going to be able to play. We’re going to be together. That was a win-win. It was a really good opportunity for us to play in college.”
After Victor sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules and Solomon missed most of last season due to a knee injury, both are back on the court together. Victor, a redshirt junior center, is averaging 3.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in 17 minutes per game. Solomon, a 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore forward, is averaging 6.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game. The Tigers are 3-10 this season entering their games at College of Charleston Feb. 6-7. They have had to pause team activities twice due to positive COVID-19 tests.
The stop-and-start season has been the next step in the Uyaelunmo brothers’ journey that started nearly a decade ago in Nigeria.
As children, the brothers lived in a small village on the outskirts of Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, according to The Baltimore Sun. Victor came to the U.S. when he was 14 and settled near Miami, while Solomon came over a year later and stayed with a host family in nearby Fort Lauderdale. Both brothers didn’t have ideal situations with their initial host families and were later adopted by Wendy Oliver-Pyatt and Michael Pyatt, a couple living in Miami.
They eventually enrolled at Cavalry Christian Academy, where they played together for two years.
“I think it’s fun to play with each other and there’s a lot of great things that can happen,” Victor said. “In high school we won states, and that was a very good moment for us — a special moment, too.”
By the time he was a high school senior, Victor was the No. 16 center in the country and No. 7 player in Florida in the class of 2017, according to ESPN. But he never climbed the depth chart in two years at USC, playing an average of 5.4 minutes per game and averaging a point and 1.3 rebounds in 43 games. As a freshman at Towson in 2018-19, Solomon averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game.
Victor put his name in the transfer portal following the end of the 2018-19 season, though Towson wasn’t an initially on the radar. With a little push from the Pyatt family, he started to consider the school and became more open to joining his brother on the Tigers. Towson head coach Pat Skerry has had success with transfers before and has six on this year’s roster.
“I think the idea of playing together was exciting to them,” Skerry said. “And obviously we liked the idea and loved having transfers. It’s been a good path for us.”
Since Victor came to Towson, both he and Solomon have faced challenge after challenge. While Victor knew he had to sit out last year, Solomon joined him after playing just two games before undergoing surgery in his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. Victor also had a nagging problem in his knee, which made for a tough year on the bench together.
Wendy Oliver-Pyatt said it was a good thing that they were there to help each other through the challenges.
“It’s a tremendous relief,” Oliver-Pyatt said. “Solomon sitting there with surgery … it’s a big deal when Victor was with his brother when he was sitting out. That’s very hard to sit out. It’s very mentally hard — especially [because] Victor’s very, very, very competitive. And to sit there and not be able to play, thank God his brother was there. Really wonderful.”
Days after Towson’s season ended, both brothers went back to Miami for the early months of the COVID-19 crisis. This was the longest they’d been home since going to college, as basketball players usually aren’t away from campus for long. Solomon stayed in touch with the Towson athletic training staff to continue rehabbing his knee injury, eventually joining Victor for workouts.
The Pyatt family has a basketball hoop at their home, and both parents got involved in the workouts. Michael Pyatt played college basketball and ran Solomon and Victor through drills, and Wendy helped rebound. Even in the hot summer days in South Florida, both brothers made sure they were shooting for at least an hour a day.
“Shooting in the heat in July, taking shots for an hour, they don’t care. They’re not very picky,” Oliver-Pyatt said. “We just kind of had a routine like that.”
Oliver-Pyatt was excited when Victor and Solomon were able to go back to campus in the fall, but it hasn’t been easy. Towson played three games in the Mohegan Sun Bubbleville Pod in Uncasville, Conn., from Nov. 25-27, then paused team activities Dec. 5. The Tigers returned to the court against George Mason Dec. 23 and played Coppin State on Dec. 26 before going on pause again Dec. 29. They returned again Jan. 16 to start Colonial Athletic Conference play and are currently 2-6 in the league.
It’s just another challenge the Uyaelunmo brothers have had to endure since Victor came to Towson. But they each have someone they can rely on, which has been a must the past two seasons.
“I’m happy he’s here and I’m really grateful for that, that we’re actually playing together,” Solomon said. “And we’ll see how everything will turn out. I’m excited for the journey.”
Photo Credits: Lexi Thompson/Towson Athletics