2019 Afrobasket Championship Most Valuable Player, Ezinne Kalu-Phelps, regards her decision to represent Nigeria ahead of her adopted country US as her best move yet.
Born in New Jersey to Nigerian parents, many expected her to trial out for the USA Women’s National Basketball team, but her heart was set on honouring her African roots.
Growing up, Kalu-Phelps would often visit family in Nigeria. Those cultural connections in her formative years gave her a sense of belonging.
She says that Nigeria chose her seven years ago when she was selected to join the Junior side, eventually opening doors for her to move into the D’Tigress National Women’s Basketball team.
It has been four years since Kalu-Phelps joined the senior team and her star continues to rise. She has won the 2017 Women’s Afrobasket and participated at the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain where she averaged 10.6 points, 3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game during the tournament.
Her story of a clear vision and an individualized version of success, resulted in a frank chat with Celine Abrahams.
Ezinne, thank you for talking to gsport ?. You were born in America to Nigerian parents. Please tell us about growing up with the best of both worlds and what your childhood was like.
Growing up had its ups and downs like every other normal person but I can say that it has been more ups than anything. Although I was born in Newark, New Jersey, I travelled to Nigeria very often even more so now because I am with the National team. I think that being able to see my other family and experience all of my family’s culture was a way for me to be connected to so many different lives before mine. Lives that I still live for to this very moment. I thank my mom and dad all the time for consistently making sure that I spent as much time there as I could.
When did you decide you want to be a professional basketballer? We also understand you dabbled with volleyball?
I decided to become a basketball player in third grade. My mom put a ball in my hand, and I fell in love. Being able to play on different teams, playing AAU and going to summer camps really gave me the motivation to get better and better every day. By the time I got to High School I was so focused and committed to the game. I started to really see the game from every angle. And yes, I played volleyball from my sophomore to senior year in High School. I loved it! I played outside hitter.
You chose to represent the Nigerian National team. Why did you opt for this move over the USA?
“Also, playing/trying out for USA was something that everybody expected me to do. But growing up I’ve never been that person to do what’s expected. If I’m going to live life to the fullest and be happy, I’m going to do it making the decisions that best fits MY vision and MY idea of what success is.” – D’Tigress National Women’s Basketball player, Ezinne Kalu-Phelps
I get asked this question a lot. I honestly…I have to say Nigeria chose me. Being selected to play for the Junior team in 2013 came as a shock to me when my college coach Cedric Baker at Savannah State told me about it. That opened other opportunities to play on the National level. Also playing/trying out for USA was something that everybody expected me to do. But growing up I’ve never been that person to do what’s expected. If I’m going to live life to the fullest and be happy, I’m going to do it making the decisions that best fits MY vision and MY idea of what success is. That vision and idea was me accepting the challenge to lead the D’Tigress National Women’s Basketball team.
What were the challenges that you faced earlier in your career that you would say shaped you into the person and player you are now?
I would definitely say the injuries. ACL, shoulder, thumb, wrists, the list goes on. I think those injuries made me mentally stronger and understand that it’s deeper than basketball. If I can find strength to push through stitches, strenuous rehab, casts, no games or practices then I can handle any competition coming my way.
Your career has blossomed over the years. Do any highlights stick out?
I would say my highlights are winning MVP in the Afrobasket 2019 Tournament, being selected Top 5 of the OQT in Serbia, and also winning a few rewards in France – Guard of the Year, Import of the Year, and First Team All French.
How would you describe the state of women’s sport globally?
“There are so many people that are doing amazing things on and off the court and the lights should be shone on them.” – Kalu-Phelps points out that women in sport are not being recognised for their incredible work.
I would say that women’s sports right now are so underrated, especially for women’s basketball. I don’t think that we receive enough support. There are so many people that are doing amazing things on and off the court and the lights should be shone on them.
Who are your favourite sportswomen and why?
Growing up I watched Cappie Pondexter and Theresa Witherspoon all the time. They were my favourite because of that killer instinct and tenacity to the floor. They always gave 100 percent and showed leadership.
What can Africa learn from the USA and France about the promotion of women’s sport?
Africa can learn how to broadcast more of women’s sports. Make the websites free to watch women’s sports, and also talk about it more.
Apart from basketball, you are also a model and CEO of Kalu Kosmetics. Tell us more about those passions.
Kalu Kosmetics is a brand I created as a reflection of me – beautiful, stylish and versatile. I wanted to create a brand for women who are told that because we play a sport we can’t get dressed up or wear make-up. Modelling came easy when I started out in middle school. I’ve been in dozens of fashion shows, hair shows, art shows, the list goes on. I love it because I get to put that same creativity back into my brand.
What is your greatest sporting ambition?
My greatest sports ambition is to go to the Olympics and make the podium winning any medal. I think that would be such a ground-breaking moment as a team and country.
Photo 1 Caption: 2019 Afrobasket Championship Most Valuable Player, Ezinne Kalu-Phelps, regards her decision to represent Nigeria ahead of her adopted country US as her best move yet. Photo: Ezinne Kalu-Phelps Instagram
Photo 2 Caption: Born in New Jersey to Nigerian parents, many expected her to trial out for the USA Women’s National Basketball team, but her heart was set on honouring her African roots. Photo: Ezinne Kalu-Phelps Instagram
Photo 3 Caption: Growing up, Kalu-Phelps would often visit family in Nigeria. Those cultural connections in her formative years gave her with a sense of belonging. Photo: Ezinne Kalu-Phelps