BOSTON — It has been a long journey for Vincent Eze: Six years, three high schools, two countries and 6,244 miles.

For the 6-foot-8, 230-pound center for the University of Maine, it has felt even longer.

“It’s pretty hard, not having that physical contact with your family. [I] just get to talk to them every now and then on the phone,” Eze said recently as the Black Bears played in the Steve Wright Classic.

At 16, Eze boarded a plane in Nigeria bound for the United States and headed off into the great unknown, alone.

“I haven’t seen my family since,” he said, a hint of sadness in his voice.

“Sometimes I have to remember I don’t know what that is like,” said UMaine head coach Bob Walsh of Eze’s odyssey. “Some days, when I’m getting on Vince about rebounding more, there might be something that’s bothering him a little bit about being so far from home that I have to think about and understand.”

Eze’s trek to Orono has been equal parts hard work and heartbreak. Born and raised in Lagos, a port of more than 17 million people and the largest city in the African continent, Eze didn’t pick up the game of basketball until he was nearly 16.

Basketball ranks significantly behind soccer and boxing in the hierarchy of sports in Nigeria. Like most Nigerian kids who show athletic promise, Eze found himself on the soccer pitch almost as soon a he could walk.

“I played soccer, all my life, I was a forward,” said Eze.

Age 15 was a defining year in Eze’s life, one which he credits with making him the person, and player, he is today. Eze’s father died, leaving him and his family devastated.

“It was pretty hard. I was really close with my dad. So it was like I had this hole in my life. Not having that father figure there was really tough,” he said.

In the wake of his father’s death, Eze took the year off from school. During that time, he was introduced to the game of basketball.

“Being one of the tallest guys, I went to a basketball court. Someone said I could play basketball, but I wasn’t sure — I wasn’t sure how the game was played,” he said.

Still unfamiliar with the basic rules of the game, Eze was spotted by scouts at a camp.

“I got exposure through [basketball] camps,” he said.

Eze eventually caught the eye of the coaching staff at Notre Dame-Green Pond, a Catholic School near Easton, Pennsylvania.

“[Notre Dame] in Pennsylvania heard about me,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to further my education in the [United] States.”

Eze was able to travel to the U.S. as an exchange student, and he lived with a host family during his time at Notre Dame.

“It was tough, being a young kid at the time, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Eze said. “Over the years, I’ve gotten to adjust pretty good.”

When Eze arrived at Notre Dame, he was a tall and athletic kid. What he wasn’t was a basketball player.

“I didn’t really start to learn the game until I got to the [United] States,” he said.

Eze started off on the junior varsity squad at Notre Dame, but he would graduate three years later, averaging 15.1 points, 18 rebounds and 6.8 blocks per game, helping to lead his squad to back-to-back league and district crowns. He also was named the most improved player and added a most valuable player award at the Easton Rotary Classic.

Eze garnered Division I interest at Notre Dame, but because of NCAA eligibility issues involving his schooling in Nigeria, he was forced to enroll for a prep year at Putnam Science Academy. There he averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game.

Eze originally committed to Manhattan College, but he decommitted after changes to the Jaspers’ coaching staff. After two visits to Orono, Eze decided UMaine was the perfect fit.

But Eze’s commitment to UMaine was not without complications. Because he attended two years of high school in Nigeria, and missed a year because of his father’s death, then did three years of high school plus a prep year in the U.S., the NCAA ruled that Eze was not eligible as a true freshman.

As a result, Eze spent the 2015-16 season on the sidelines watching his teammates struggle to an 8-22 record.

“It was tough sitting out, but at the same time, it helped me get better and develop at things,” Eze said.

Now, finally playing as a 21-year-old redshirt freshman, Eze is tasked with anchoring the defenses as a “rim protector” and rebounder for Walsh.

“Vince provides us a low post presence on both ends in a 6-8 strong, athletic body,” Walsh said. “He gives us somebody we can throw the ball to in the low post.”

As fast as he has acclimated on the court, he seems to be fitting in off the court as well.

“Vince is one of the most well-liked athletes on campus,” Walsh said. “Once a week, someone stops me and says, ‘God, your guy Vince is such a good guy.’ He’s just a really humble, smart, nice, kid.”

Still rough around the edges, Eze’s size, athleticism and developing skill set could go a long way for an America East program searching for its next dominant big man.

“He is still developing,” Walsh said. “He needs to work on his ability to finish around the rim and continue to develop as a rebounder. If he can be a guy that gets us eight, nine, 10 rebounds a game; he can really help us.”

During the Black Bears’ three games at the Steve Wright Classic, Eze showed just how good he can be. He scored 22 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in 39 minutes, while hitting 10 of 16 shots in UMaine’s first two games of the tournament.

On the final day, Eze showed that he still has a ways to go, scoring just two points to go with one rebound while racking up four personal fouls in only eight minutes of action.

“He has the potential to be an outstanding player in this conference when all is said and done,” said Walsh.

After the Black Bears were swept out of the tournament, falling 71-66 to LIU Brooklyn at Boston University, Eze lingered outside Case Gym.

“I still have a long way to go,” he said.

“But I’ve already come a very long way,” he added, a slight smile creeping across his face before he headed out into the biting wind and boarded the team bus for the long ride back to Orono.