Small forward on the big screen

While many Division-I collegiate basketball players are anxiously anticipating this summer’s NBA draft, St. John’s own Otoja Abit has different plans.

The six-foot-six senior forward, who joined the Red Storm as a walk-on in 2004, has ambitious goals of launching an acting career – a dream he has had since he was eight years old, before he even thought about playing basketball.

“I enjoy acting more [than playing basketball],” Abit said. “I have a passion for basketball, too, but there are so many things you can do with acting.”

Abit explained that, aside from making the NBA, there are only so many avenues one can take with basketball as a profession.

“I achieved my goal of being a Division-I athlete,” he said. “Now I want to pursue acting, my biggest passion.”

The St. John’s community will get a chance to see Abit’s acting prowess in Keeper, a 20-minute movie produced by members of the Film Club for the upcoming Film Club Festival, set to take place on May 2.

The movie, according to Abit, revolves around Jeff (played by student Ronald Lewis), and his attempts at keeping a dark secret from others who are trying to discover it. Abit plays a character that is “after the secret.”

Junior Michael Shove, who directed Keeper, said that Abit was great to work with.

“He always came well prepared and knew the process very well,” Shove said. “You don’t often get that with amateur actors.”

Shove also said that he did not even take into account Abit’s popularity from the basketball team when casting him. Instead, Abit earned the role entirely on his own merit.

“Otoja is friends with one of my suitemates,” Shove said. “I saw a clip of him from an acting class, and I thought he was great.”

Keeper is not Abit’s first acting gig; in fact, he starred in the play ‘The Picnic” while attending the Gunnery post-graduate school, and he also went on auditions for commercials and other small roles when he was a child.

He is also currently in pre-production on a documentary about Lou Carnesecca.

“When I was eight, my family was very supportive of my dreams,” Abit said. “My mom took me on auditions. But one time, I missed one because both my parents work. If you want to pursue that career, you have to be able to pursue it full-time.”

Abit took to the stage as much as he could over the last four years, acting in summer plays during the off-season. But being a member of the St. John’s men’s basketball team dominated most of his schedule.

“Of course, I wanted to pursue acting,” Abit said. “But right now I’m a Division-I athlete, and I stay committed to what I do 100 percent.”

This season, Abit played in only two games, registering one block. But according to head coach Norm Roberts, Abit has had a huge impact on the team off the court during all four of his years at St. John’s.

“Otoja’s a smart, opinionated guy,” Roberts said. “Everyone loves him. He’s the guy everyone can talk to about anything.”
Roberts joked that Abit has “always been a bit of an actor in practice,” and said that he fully supports his player’s dream of acting.

“He’s young, and if he believes in it, he should follow his dreams,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ encouragement, according to Abit, has been very beneficial.

“[Roberts] has always told me to pursue my dream,” Abit said. “For him – my basketball coach – to tell me something like that was big.”

In addition to his role in Keeper, Abit currently serves as the Vice President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. His and other basketball players’ involvement in campus life, according to Roberts, is an important step in getting the basketball team to contribute to the sense of community at St. John’s.

“St. John’s is different than it was a few years ago,” Roberts explained. “I think it’s very important for the team to be involved in the community, since we have a vibrant resident life now, and it’s good to be involved in that.”

Shove also believes that the added notoriety of having members of the basketball team participate in events held by campus organizations can help increase interest in the events.

“A lot of people know [basketball players], so to see them getting involved might be a lead-in,” Shove said. He added, “I don’t want to sound shallow, but seeing someone that you know do something might get you to join it, too.”

While Abit agreed that his involvement with the film club could increase other students’ participation, he seemed most excited that students would finally be able to see his work.

Fellow members of the basketball team and other members in the Athletics Department, Abit said, are all going to come out on May 2 to watch the film and support him.

Said Abit, “I’m happy that now, people can see something I’m so
passionate about.”