Playing basketball for University High School, just down the road from UCF, Tanksley Efianayi often dreamed of donning the black and gold for his hometown college.
He had offers on the table from Kansas State, Florida State and UCF, among others, but his path came to a halt as he wasn't able to attend a Division I university after graduating from high school.
Instead, Efianayi's grades took him on a detour to Daytona State College, where he led the Falcons to a 21-7 record as a sophomore, averaged 20.3 points per game and earned National Junior College Athletics Association Second Team All-America honors.
"At first, I didn't really like it. But it definitely taught me a lesson to stay on top of my schoolwork because it'll take basketball away from you: what I love to do the most," Efianayi said.
Before attending junior college, Efianayi was a regular fan at UCF basketball games. This summer, his dream of playing for the Knights finally came true as he began the Summer A practice session with the team.
"Right now, it's a surreal feeling. Now I'm here. UCF shirt on, in the practices, in front of Donnie Jones and I'm on the court versus watching," the UCF guard said. "It feels good. Not everybody has that opportunity to stay at home and play in front of their home crowd in college … I think about it all the time, that I'm blessed to be able to do this.
"It showed me that my hard work is paying off."
Although the feeling of wearing black and gold for his hometown team is the payoff he's been dreaming of, the hard work is just beginning. NCAA Division I basketball is a huge step up from junior college ball — bypassing Division II and III on his journey.
Head coach Donnie Jones is not worried about that step and said conditioning is the least of his worries because of the team's deep bench.
"He's going to give us something we didn't have last year: that's a big guard that can defend, who can guard three positions, who can score if we need a bucket and, obviously, he's a great teammate, too," Jones said. "That makes him even more special is he's got all those qualities and he really cares about winning.
"You can tell his experience because he's got a bright basketball IQ. He picks things up quick and [he's] a really good worker."
While he does have two years of college ball and six more weeks of Division I practice under his belt, Efianayi can't wait until the first game of the season. The stands will be packed with familiar faces of family and friends cheering him on.
"The ability to stay in Orlando and play here — where I'm from — it couldn't beat that," Efianayi said. "Now they're going to be calling my name out there."
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JHeil11 or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.