Back into action: Tchewa’s journey of overcoming adversity

Junior center Russel Tchewa racked 166 rebounds last season for USF men’s basketball. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

All junior center Russel Tchewa wanted to do was to visit his family back in Douala, Cameroon, but it quickly turned into an extended trip after he was denied a visa to come back to Florida. 

Back in May, Tchewa took the journey to Africa to care for his ill father, who was battling with COVID-19 and needed extra assistance. He said the process itself to return to his homeland is very challenging.

“Every time when you leave the country, when you try to come back you need a student visa. If you come for work, you need a work visa,” Tchewa said. “So every time you have to go to the embassy to do an interview and try to get your visa to come back.” 

While home, his biggest concern was making sure his family was supported — that was until he attempted to make his way back to Tampa. After applying for his visa, it was flagged. 

Unable to return, there wasn’t much the center could do at that moment. To make sure he stayed in shape for the season, he thought about joining the Cameroon men’s national basketball team. However, the adversity didn’t stop there.

“I didn’t play because my passport was locked at the embassy. I couldn’t, it was stuck. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t leave the country at that time. I was waiting for four months,” Tchewa said. 

The frustration didn’t stop with Tchewa either. Missing important training time with the team came as a struggle for coach Brian Gregory as well.

“The biggest thing is just it’s put him in a difficult situation academically, basketball-wise. My biggest concern is what’s happening for the young man,” Gregory said in an Aug. 24 Oracle article.

Tchewa even took to social media to share his situation with others with the hopes that someone who can help may see it. 

After four months, the Bull was able to return to South Florida with the help of the USF administration and elected officials. Coming back to school was easy, but the biggest challenge was getting back into shape for basketball. 

“Even if I only have one day off, the next day, I’m gonna struggle to get back on my ship,” Tchewa said. “I spent four months [away]. So just think about it, it was a long time. And I was running when I was home. I wasn’t just sleeping or waiting for my visa. I was doing something. 

“It was a huge transition, and it’s really hard. Especially the shape when you try to get back in basketball shape and get back in game shape, that’s very different. It’s very difficult to do.”

Along with his training, the itch to return to the court for the season is just as great. All Tchewa wants to do is help his team excel. 

Last season, the center put in 727 minutes of work over the course of 29 games played. He also racked up an average of 25.1 points per game with 232 points during the 2021-22 campaign. 

Being one of the Bulls’ biggest assets with his talent and 7-foot stature, there’s one thing on Tchewa’s mind heading into the first game of the season. 

“Win. Win every game, be ready for every game and just show up and play hard,” Tchewa said.  “The biggest thing is to win every game and come ready to play. The biggest game is our next game. So it doesn’t matter the team we play, it’s going to be our biggest game and try to focus on that game.”

Other than winning, Tchewa has a long to-do list to try and put the team in a better position to win this year. 

“I’m just gonna try to help my team by taking a lot of rebounds, be able to dominate the post play and run the floor,” Tchewa said. “I know what my team needs me to do to help them so I’m going to do whatever they need me to do, and just be ready to play. Just play hard.”