It’s hard to imagine that someone of Ileri Ayo-Faleye’s size (6-foot-8, 210 pounds, with a significant wingspan) and athleticism (jump-out-of-the-gym leaping ability) could ever be overlooked by anyone looking for an impactful basketball player to join their college hoops program.

And yet that is how Ayo-Faleye felt coming out of Cedar Crest High School in 2020, a few short months after helping the Falcons to the Lancaster-Lebanon League title and the District 3 Class 6A semifinals.

Overlooked, ignored, underestimated, you name it and Ayo-Faleye felt it.

Instead of wallowing in it, he got to work and made himself into a college basketball player and made the opinions of any doubters irrelevant.

Fast forward nearly four years later, and Ayo-Faleye has made a name for himself and carved out an important role with the University of Vermont men’s basketball team, Thus far this winter, the redshirt junior forward has helped the Catamounts to a 23-6 record and an 13-1 mark in in the America East Conference, where they have clinched a tie for the conference regular season title.

Not bad for a guy who felt like he was toiling in anonymity just a few short hoops seasons ago.

Ileri Ayo-Faleye, rocking #0 for the Catamounts, in a game against University of Albany. (Provided photo by Alex Weiss)

“This is what I worked for,” he said in a phone interview from Vermont recently. “To be able to step into a bigger role, and my coaches and teammates trust me to do that. It’s really enjoyable. I just want to continue to grow as a player.”

Thus far this season, Ayo-Faleye has appeared in 28 games, starting 27, and is averaging 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, while leading the team in blocked shots with 36 and in free throw attempts with 89.

On February 17, he posted one of his efforts of the season, tallying 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting and grabbing four rebounds in Vermont’s win over Maine. His top performance of the 2023-24 season came last month against UMass-Lowell when he recorded a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.

It’s been a slow, but steady, rise for Ayo-Faleye, who first earned a spot on the team at Rhode Island following his high school graduation. But after playing sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2021-22, he opted to transfer to Vermont, and found a role last season as a reserve forward, averaging 3.1 points and 2.0 rebounds as the Catamounts captured the America East title and grabbed an automatic NCAA berth.

“I had to get a lot better,” he said of transitioning from the Lancaster-Lebanon League to the Division 1 college ranks. “The L-L is not the same as Division One basketball, so there was a learning curve that I had to adjust to. I just had to continue to grow and get better every year, as well as day-to-day.”

University of Vermont’s 6-foot-8 Ileri Ayo-Faleye in a game earlier this season against University of Albany. (Provided photo by Alex Weiss)

That Ayo-Faleye has beean able to prove himself as a player at this level, is not a total shock. He showed flashes of brilliance at Cedar Crest, but lacked some of the polish he now posseses, which probably led to some of the lack of college interest that he initially had to endure.

“I just  really had a chip on my shoulder,” said Ayo-Fayele, who wore number zero as a senior at Cedar Crest to display the number of college offers he had received to that point. “I didn’t really have a name or any respect in the (basketball) community. It wasn’t just the offers, it was everything in general. I didn’t feel like I had the respect, I felt slighted. I used that as motivation, fuel to the fire.”

Despite all of that, Ayo-Faleye has clearly found a home at Vermont. And he’s displayed his versatlity in the process, contributing in the dirty work areas of rebounding andc defense, as well as offensively, where he’s developed a fairly consistent 3-point shot to go with the occasional rim-rocking slam dunks he was also known for at Cedar Crest.

“I feel like my game has evolved a lot since Cedar Crest,” he said. “I can’t even really give you one thing I’ve improved on because I’m not the same player I was back then, My game has improved a lot. If you saw me play from high school to now, you wouldn’t even recognize me.”

Ayo-Faleye still has  plenty of good feelings for his alma mater, though, and looks back on his time at Cedar Crest with pride.

“Of course, man,” he said, when asked if he still follows Cedar Crest’s progress. “Falcon family forever.”

These are different days, though, and they seem to be getting better and better all the time.

“It’s a lot of fun, when you have things rolling like this,” he said. “We’re just on the same page from top to bottom, and we’re just clicking on all cylinders. We’re ready to play our best basketball moving forward.”

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Pat Huggins covered local sports for the Lebanon Daily News for almost 25 years, beginning in January of 1999. Pat was born and raised in Lebanon County and is a 1987 graduate of Lebanon High School and a 1991 alum of Elizabethtown College. A huge Phillies and 76ers fan, Pat spends his spare time on...


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