From winning the Afrobasket Women Championship in 2017 to an 8th place finish in Spain three months ago, Evelyn Akhator and Ezinne Kalu have played crucial roles for the senior women’s national team, D’Tigress.
It was a record-breaking year for the pair who shone like a million stars at the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Tenerife Spain.
Akhator had 4 double-double in 7 games for Nigeria, the highest recorded by any player in Spain. She averaged 29.4 MPG, 12.6 PPG and 68.6 % FT and ranked number 12 at the World Cup.
On the other hand, Kalu was rated the second best in steals (17) and eighth in assist (29) at the World Cup. She averaged 30.2 MPG, 10.6 PPG and 67.6 % FT.
Miss double-double as she is fondly called, Akhator, capped her year with a double award in November. She was voted the best basketball player and the Sports Woman of the year at this year’s Nigerian Sports Awards held in Lagos.
“2018 was a great year; it was filled with the good and bad but unforgettable memories that will and has gone down to history. We made history during the world Cup. It was a great and epic tournament; we were heard, watched all over the world, talked about, and even praised. Nobody thought we could do it but we did it and we will do more by God’s grace,” said Akhator to ACLSports.com
“Finishing at the quarter-final was a success. I mean from the administrative point to the coaches, down to the players, we succeeded. You must keep setting goals and keep succeeding and by God’s grace we will do more. Whatever happened was great and whatever mistakes made was a lesson we should learn from because it will help and build us for the future.”
The D’Tigress forward believes she proved doubters wrong in Spain.
“People who doubted me before were surprised and impressed. The World Cup changed some settings positively and I’m thankful to God for that; with that said, I will leave everything to God and watch things play out next year.”
World Cup performance opened more doors for Ezinne Kalu
Kalu said,” the World Cup has definitely opened a few more doors for me this season. I think my performance collectively with the team and individually allowed prospective teams to see what I could bring to the table. My job was to give 100% every game and I think I did that.”
The World Cup is one Kalu won’t forget in a hurry. From being a revelation for Nigeria at the 2016 Rio Olympic qualifying tournament to becoming an integral member of the D’Tigress.
“2018 has definitely been a year of challenges, excitement and new ventures. I’ve learned a lot this year about myself and what I have to offer to the world. I will remember making history with my sisters, Team Nigeria in the World Cup. Not only have I faced adversity head on but I have also managed to stay consistent in achieving my goals. I have to continue setting the bar high for myself. My only competition is myself because that’s who I look at in the mirror everyday. I’m excited to see what 2019 will bring,” Kalu said.
“The World Cup experience was amazing. We have accomplished so much as a team. We came into the World Cup as the underdogs. We left as the team to watch out for. Taking 8th Place was a big deal for us. We had high hopes. This was only the beginning to something more amazing. No one can take that experience from us.”
Kalu expressed her desire to finish on the podium in subsequent editions but a quarter final finish in Spain is still regarded a success.
“Finishing at the quarter-final was an accomplishment for us. Although we haven’t won the title, that accomplishment showed us that it is definitely possible.
The D’Tigress guard told ACLSports.com what she would have done differently in Tenerife.
“The only thing I would have loved to do a bit differently was to be on that podium. What we did as a team was indeed ground breaking; and although we are no strangers to a podium, I think being up on that stage in such a major competition, would have definitely shook the world.”
Both players echoed the need to defend their Afrobasket Women title next year rumoured to take place in Nigeria.