Evelyn Akhator: From Calamity to Celebrity

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Evelyn Akhator: From Calamity to Celebrity

Success is not so much about what you have or where you are, it is about what you started with and where you started from. If this is the case, then Ms Evelyn Akhator, at the age of 22, can easily be described as a highly successful Nigerian. Her journey from grass to grace is not one that could have been predicted by a seer. The odds were stacked up against her. She was from a poor background. Her dad was unemployed. And to top all that, she is from Nigeria where passion and talent, overflowing as they may be, do not get you deserved attention.

Five or so years ago, Evelyn was your typical nobody. She was unknown to the world. She did not have much, by any standard. But she had one thing – her love for basketball. Not only that, she had a dream, for which should have been labelled crazy by anyone she had told some years ago. She longed to play basketball in the United States of America. She could not even speak English well enough, and the only form of the language she knew to speak was broken English. Wild though it may seem, her mom always encouraged her to work towards her dream.

Sadly, when she was just 16, the light of this dream was overshadowed by an unexpected eclipse. Her mom had been involved in a road accident and had died. After this calamity, she stopped playing and practising altogether. It was as if her dream was buried alongside her mother in the grave. She also stopped applying to travel to the U.S., and missed so many visa application deadlines. She simply did not want to play anymore. She could not get herself to.

It took the intervention of her coach and pastor to encourage her to play again, to “play for her mom.” After some time, she reunited with her ball and decided to apply to a Junior College team in Florida. She was accepted. With her new mind-set, she not only performed excellently but outshone all of her teammates.

She went on to play for the University of Kentucky, and again outshone everyone. As a matter of fact, she was playing and studying nursing at the same time. There were those who tried to talk her out of it. Nursing was too difficult to combine with basketball, they said. But she refused. She not only passed, she was passing well with a GPA of 3.5 (out of 4).

Evelyn has not only got the brains and beauty, she also has pleasant moral rectitude to match. Her coach, Fred Williams, attested to her good manners. She is respectful and matured. While others would talk back at him, he said, Evelyn would not. And she is always grateful, never one to complain or whimper.

Though very beautiful, Evelyn has been described as a “beast” when in the court. According to UK Athletics, she was SEC Player of the week on numerous occasions. At Chiploa College, she was named the 2015 Neal Sportsmanship Award winner, an award that honours unwavering leadership contributions. And, in High School, she had countless career highs in many of her matches. One of those that stand out is her 10.8 rebounding average, the best for a UK player since 1982-83. She managed 18 double-doubles in the past season, rating in the top 20 nationally and second in the South-eastern Conference.

And although she was only on campus for two years, she ended her career tied for third in school history in double-doubles, second in all-time rebounding average, eighth all-time in scoring average and fourth in field-goal percentage.

At the long last, her diligence, perseverance and propriety paid off. On the night of April 12, and still green in the career, selected by the Dallas Wing she was drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

“It’s a dream come true,” a breathless Evelyn had told the Herald-Leader after the announcement. “I can’t really describe it. I just can’t believe it.”

The Wings President and CEO, Greg Bibb, also spoke to the press about the announcement.

“The upside is great for her. Great kid, scholar-athlete. We think the sky’s the limit for her and we’re really excited to have her coming to Dallas. We were fortunate to have a little bit of a read on her early and were able to follow her and the more and more we watched her, the more and more we liked her,” he said.

“When we were able to dig in a little bit more about her as a person and her character, that’s all A-plus stuff,” he added.

Interestingly, Evelyn did not allow the attention she is getting and distractions in the States to cloud thoughts of her family. Whenever she gets her cost of attendance cheques, she would send them home to help her unemployed dad, James Akhator, and five siblings (Friday, Maris, Grace, Fidelia and Sandra). And she calls home at every opportunity.

In her words: “I’m not from this country so with the time difference, I have to create time to talk to my family. So I need to try to talk with them with the time I have. After practice, when I’m done, I just try to return all the calls from home as much as I can.

“I don’t’ really watch TV because I just came from college, no free time. I’m getting used to turning my TV back on. I [would] just be on the phone calling my family at home. Family is important.”

'Kunle Adebajo
'Kunle Adebajo
Adekunle Adebajo is a final-year apprentice of the legal trade at Nigeria’s premier university. He is an award-winning poet, essayist and public speaker. He considers himself a logophile and grey supremacist, and one day, hopes to be called a lawyer, freelance journalist and entrepreneur. You may reach out to him at [email protected]

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