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College Basketball’s oldest player: Chattanooga’s Josh Ayeni still just ‘wants to win’

The Mocs travel to Mercer on Monday night with a shot to be the third mid-major to reach 20 wins

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 13 Mercer at Chattanooga

How would you classify age in college basketball? Do you look at the player’s class or their physical age number?

Well for Josh Ayeni of Chattanooga, it’s probably better that you look at his graduate student label. Ayeni is currently in his sixth year of college basketball, at his third school, and is 25 years old.

That would make him the oldest active player in the sport.

Grant Weatherford of Georgia Southern (25) and Frederick Scott of Boston College (25) and Tennessee’s John Fulkerson (24, will be 25 in late April), are next in line to get their retirement checks.

If the Mocs happen to make the NCAA Tournament and go on a Final Four run, then Ayeni, whose March 30 birthday falls right behind the Final Four, would be 26 years old playing on the biggest stage of college hoops.

“I know you wanna get the oldest guy possible, write a story on him,” Ayeni told Mid-Major Madness in a joking manner. “I love playing basketball. I don’t care what age I am right now. Being the oldest player in college basketball, I guess I have all the experience.”

A native of Nigeria, Ayeni was originally a soccer player. His height caught the attention of some basketball coaches who said that he could play the sport in the United States with his size, so he began working on his craft.

In 2011 he moved to Baltimore and soon found himself at the famed St. Frances Academy for high school basketball. Known more for its football prowess, they have quickly become one of the top hoops programs on the east coast and it began with Ayeni.

While he was there, the Panthers won two MIAA-A Tournament championships. It also resulted in 17 Division I offers.

“They just got this culture where they teach you how to play hard, do the little stuff. It’s a good program. I love it. I love it,” said Ayeni.

From there, he went to Saint Bonaventure and shined. In his freshman season in Olean (he told MMM that it was Olean not Allegany for anyone wanting to correct us) he started 24 games and ranked in the top 10 of turnover rate in the Atlantic 10. The next season, he started 16 of the first 17 games but that was when everything changed. He tore his ACL and couldn’t play in the Bonnies run towards the NCAA Tournament.

“Injuries happen, man, I had to sit out two years,” he said. “It’s been a long process for me.”

From there, he transferred to the South Alabama where he had to sit out a season. After starting the first five games, he suffered another injury. He got his degree and decided to transfer over to Chattanooga to finish out his eligibility. Lamont Paris decided to take a chance on him, and Ayeni has played outstanding as a sixth man.

“Shoutout to Coach Paris; I love him, man,” Ayeni said.

In the Mocs 19-5 start to the season, Ayeni has scored double digits in three games including most recently, on Saturday. Then, he scored a season-high 18 points against the Mercer Bears in a nationally televised game on ESPNU.

Every shot seemed to go in.

“That guy, I said something to him after the handshake line and he said, ‘I want to win, man,’ Chattanooga head coach Lamont Paris said postgame. “That’s one thing I never ever questioned about Josh. He is a competitive guy. It was fun to watch him flourishing on the offensive side of the ball.”

Ayeni will look to couple his performance on Saturday with another strong outing against Mercer, tonight at 7:00 EST on ESPN+ in Macon. With a win, Chattanooga will become the third mid-major team to reach 20 wins this season.

The lesson to learn from Ayeni is to “never give up on your dreams.”

Through all the trials and tribulations, he is still here strong and pushing his team towards its first NCAA Tournament bid in six seasons, one step at a time.