Every morning, Samuel Vonleh sends a text message to his three children.

Sometimes, it's a Bible verse or an inspirational quote. Sometimes, it's a few words of encouragement and support.

He came to the United States from Liberia in 1979, following his mother and father. The Vonleh family settled around Boston, living what Samuel describes as a blend of West African culture and Christian values.

That included the concept of the whole family being responsible for raising a child. So Vonleh's son, Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh, and Noah's two sisters grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. Someone was always watching, always advising.

"You never want to degrade the family name," Samuel Vonleh said. "If he makes any mistakes, it reflects on the family name."

There will almost certainly be NBA millions waiting on Noah Vonleh someday, perhaps soon. He is 6-foot-10 — with a 7-foot-3 wingspan — and leads the Big Ten in rebounding as a freshman. He won't turn 19 until August, meaning there's plenty of room for growth.

In terms of personality, he is already solidly grounded, someone described often as humble and kind, with a fierce work ethic.

"The type of way he's driven, I don't think a lot of people have that," said Noah's cousin, Jeremie Jackley. "This dude, he goes to bed dreaming about it."

Jackley recalled a two-on-two pickup game where Noah, 12 at the time, was his teammate — and much younger than Jackley and their opponents. The other team smirked at the kid, then watched him drop a string of baskets to win.

"This is the golden child," Jackley recalled telling them. "Just remember that."


Even when his family visited Disney World, Noah Vonleh, then 14, wouldn't compromise — he wanted his mother to find him a gym.

"There was no vacation without a gym," said Vin Pastore, Vonleh's AAU coach. "There was nothing without a basketball."

Pastore said Vonleh would call him sometimes twice a day — beyond his regular practice schedule — to open the gym.

Vonleh began at Haverhill (pronounced "have-rull") High School when he was 13, too young, he and his family thought, to go to prep school. But that was always the plan. New England prep school basketball is some of the most competitive in the country.

Once he made the switch to New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire, Vonleh still used his old high school for workouts. Haverhill coach Mike Trovato remembered gathering his team one day to drive to a summer league game, when he heard noise coming from Haverhill's gym.

"I see the door open … and there's Noah," Trovato said. "It was literally 97 degrees in that gym."

Sometimes, he would walk more than a mile to the Haverhill YMCA.

"He'd close the building down, leave here in a ball of sweat," said Clint Clay, sports director at the Haverhill Y.

Vonleh's mother, Renell Kumeh, a nurse, set the example for her son. She often worked double shifts when money became tight after a divorce from Vonleh's father.

Renell Kumeh declined an interview request.

"My mom, she works really hard, so I think that's really where I kind of get it from," Noah Vonleh said. "I'm trying to be great, so that motivates me to work hard every day and give the best each and every day."