Although much of the hype around this year’s Tennessee men’s basketball team has been centered on Jarnell Stokes, there is another freshman making an impact on the team as well. That is 6-foot-9, 244-pound center Yemi Makanjuola.
   
 Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Makanjuola learned to play soccer from an early age and didn’t realize basketball could be in his future until his teenage years, when others told him he had the size to be a great player.
    
“As a kid in Nigeria I played soccer my whole life growing up and playing basketball is something I never planned on doing,” Makanjuola said. “When I got older people started telling me I could be better at basketball and I started playing basketball. It has turned out real good for me.”
    
After taking up basketball he found success and captured the attention of many, as he was twice named a top-five prospect at the Giants of Africa Big Man Camp (08-09) and also participated in the 2009 Adidas Futures Camp in Abuja, Nigeria.
   
 The Nigeria native, the second in UT men’s basketball history along with Emmanuel Negedu, moved to the United States in January 2010 and attended Oak Hill Academy in Virginia before transferring to Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., where he played out his final year of high school basketball.
   
 In his senior season, playing alongside two other NCAA Division-I signees, Makanjuola averaged 12 points per game to go along with 10 rebounds and three blocks. His performance not only helped the Holy Rams to a 24-3 record on the season, but also helped himself gain attention from college basketball programs, specifically Indiana and Tennessee.
    
On May 5, 2011, he committed to Tennessee.
    
“I really liked Tennessee and it’s really close to my high school,” he said. “I wanted to be close to my high school and friends.”
   
 In his first game wearing orange and white, Makanjuola contributed right away by leading the team in blocks, with two, in the Vols’ 92-63 season-opening win over UNC Greensboro.
    
However, his breakout performance this season came right before the new year when UT defeated The Citadel 86-55 on Dec. 29, 2011.
    
Makanjuola scored a career-high 18 points, all of which he scored consecutively off the bench in the second half, and hauled in his first double-double of the season with 11 rebounds in just 13 minutes of play.
    
“We were up by 15 points when I came in and I just wanted to make sure we pulled away,” he said. “My mindset was to close out the game.”
   
 His best SEC performance came against Vanderbilt on Jan. 24 as he scored seven points and had six rebounds in a 65-47 losing effort.
    
“He brings a big, physical presence to our team,” junior guard Skylar McBee said. “He is progressing everyday and you can tell he just wants to get better.”
    
Although he may appear to some as threatening on the court, off the court Makanjuola is said to be a “jokester” by some of his teammates.
    
“He is always looking to have fun no matter what he’s doing,” McBee said. “He’s always joking around and is one of the jokesters on the team.”
    
While he can’t play his childhood sport right now due to basketball season, one of his favorite hobbies is to play ping-pong.
    
“I play ping-pong and I’m probably the best in all of Tennessee right now,” he said. “I’m pretty good at javelin and all field events too.”
    
While the sports management major has fun joking around and playing games, Makanjuola and his teammates are all about business now as the season winds to an end.
    
“We are not playing for ourselves, but for Tennessee,” he said. “We are trying to win out the last few games of the regular season and win the SEC Tournament. Our goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament.”
    
For a 19-year-old who spent nearly his whole childhood and teenage years in a different country, Makanjuola has adjusted quickly to his new lifestyle in America.
    
“If you love to play basketball you should be able to adjust to anything,” he said. “My mom taught me to be disciplined and I can take that with me wherever I am.”