In his senior year at Queens’ Cardozo High School in 2010, Ryan Rhoomes, the team’s 6-foot-9 forward, shared the co-MVP award of the Jordan Brand Classic Regional game. It seemed like Rhoomes was on the fast track to college basketball.

But as coaches dug into his transcript, they learned that he did not have the grades to meet NCAA eligibility.

Rhoomes’ grade struggles led him to New Jersey’s NIA Prep, where he worked to sufficiently raise his GPA. But the school became wrapped up in an NCAA scandal that cast Rhoomes and five other student-athletes to the status of non-qualifiers. He was forced to spend another year at home, this time out of school.

That could have been the sail that accelerated a tailwind of unfortunate events. Rhoomes took a job—his first—at a Calvin Klein store, wondering with his mother about his future.

“I was watching guys I played with in high school—Maurice Harkless and Russ Smith—all going into the league,” Rhoomes said. “It was kind of stressful. I actually cried a few times.”

Then, Fordham assistant coach David Duke recruited him for the Rams’ 2012 roster.

Even though he had passed online courses to erase the prep school problems, his first appearance in a Ram uniform was almost stopped by an eligibility question. At the last hour before he was scheduled to face Texas State, Fordham’s compliance department helped settle the question, and one of the department reps drove him to the airport to meet his teammates.

Despite some initial struggles, under new head coach Jeff Neubauer in April 2015, Rhoomes found his focus.

“A lot people put me in the position to fail,” Rhoomes said. “Coach Neubauer came here and put me in the position to win. Being at Fordham has made me a better man.”

The Rams won 17 games this past season—the most since 2007—and played in a postseason tournament for the first time since 1992. Rhoomes more than doubled his scoring output, averaging14.6 points per game, and his field goal percentage (.647) broke Damon Lopez’s Fordham record (.616) set in 1991.

“These are the things that happen when you play right, you play smart, you play within yourself,” Rhoomes said. “I wasn’t trying to break records, I was just trying to help my team win.”

Rhoomes is thankful that Fordham took a chance on him. Besides picking up his game, he’s learned to succeed in the classroom as well. “I wish I had the same mentality in high school [as I have now],” said Rhoomes, who graduates May 21 with a GPA of 3.0 in his major. “I wouldn’t have been in the situation I was in.”

He also sees an opportunity to earn a living playing basketball. He has received calls from NBA teams for workouts and KMG Sports Management is on board to help showcase his abilities. Yet he remains humble.

“A lot of people don’t get a second chance, let alone a third chance,” Rhoomes said, “so being in a position to win is something I’m happy about. I’m really proud.”

–Ryan Restivo