William Chrisman High School graduate Jon Ekey, The Examiner’s co-Player of the Year in 2009 before going on to enjoy a solid career at Illinois State and the University of Illinois, is quick to point out that he did not get his 6-foot-7 frame from his 84-year-old grandfather, Raymond Allen.
“But I did get my good looks from him,” quipped Ekey, who has spent much of the summer helping his grandfather build a new deck behind his fashionable Independence home, located near Phelps Road and 39th Street. “I love my grandpa so much, and it’s been a great summer getting to spend so much time with him – especially since I’m leaving Aug. 28th for Japan.”
Ekey was approached by the Saitana Broncos in Japan about joining their team, which can include up to three foreign players on the roster.
“It didn’t take long for me to say yes,” said Ekey, who played in all 35 games and started 23 last year for the Fighting Illini. “We had a coach who knew some people who were involved with helping American players get on foreign teams.
“They had three Americans on their team last year and one retired. So, I guess I’m going to be replacing him, which will be nice, because there will be a couple of other Americans who can kind of help me get started over there.”
He will also get some help from a former William Chrisman foreign exchange student who saw that Ekey was coming to Japan via Facebook.
“She actually got in touch with me and told me she lives near Tokyo,” Ekey said. “Saitana is about 40 miles north of Tokyo and I’m sure that will be a big help, too. I’m really excited about going to Japan, but I have no idea what to expect.
“I want to experience all that Japan offers and I know my American teammates and my former classmate at Chrisman will really help.”
The last year has been a whirlwind for Ekey, who averaged 13.6 points as a senior at Chrisman and led the state of Missouri in blocked shots with 151, including a season-high 11 against Lee’s Summit North.
After three standout years playing and four attending class at Illinois State, he transferred to Illinois where he received his master’s degree in sports management.
“I got a business degree at Illinois State and a master’s at Illinois – which is an 18-month program, and I was able to finish it in about 13 months. Then, the offer came from Japan, so it’s been really fulfilling for me.”
Ekey ranked third on Illinois in rebounding (4.8 per game) and fourth in scoring (7.3 points per game). The lanky forward earned four team honors: TNT Award, Matt Heldman "Matto" Award, 6th-Man Award and Orange Krush 3-Point Shooting Award.
He grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds (eight offensive) against Valparaiso and scored a season-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-7 from long distance, against Bradley.
“I had a great time at Illinois State, but some coaching styles changed and I had a year eligibility because I redshirted there, so I went to Illinois, played another season and got my master’s,” Ekey said. “It’s all pretty amazing how it worked out.”
Ekey totaled 668 points and 432 rebounds in 99 games over three seasons at Illinois State and was a career 36.5 percent 3-point shooter (112-307). He ranks sixth on the ISU all-time blocked shots list with 110 and scored a career-high 22 points against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 10, 2010.
He won’t be going to Japan alone as he will be joined by his brother Geoff, who also graduated from Chrisman.
“He’s not going to get a Visa right away,” Jon said, “but if he likes it in Japan, the team said they might help him look for a job. Right now, he’s going as a tourist and to keep me company.”
While Ekey eagerly anticipates a new challenge in his life, he wants to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I want to do everything there is to do and see everything there is to see in Japan and other countries near there,” Ekey said. “This was something I never even thought about a year ago, and now, I’m leaving in three weeks. Wow!”