D’Tigress World Cup Wonderful Performance Excited Ezinne Kalu
Vasas Akademia of Hungary guard, Ezinne Kalu, helped D’Tigress reach quarter-finals of the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain.
The 26-year-old tells IDRIS ADESINA about the World Cup, the national team, her career and more in this interview
Nigeria shocked the world at the 2018 World Cup in Spain reaching the quarter-finals. How can this be sustained?
This can be sustained by us consistently putting in the work on-and-off the court. Even as each individual player play on their club teams, it’s important that we all stay in the best shape and get better in any way that we can. Every summer is a new task for us but if we do the early work and we are prepared, then everything will fall into place for us.
The World Cup is gone, what are your hopes and aspirations after the tournament?
I want to continue training very hard. That means staying in the gym and staying physically and mentally fit for the upcoming season.
Coach Otis Hughley was new with the team before the World Cup. What are your impressions of him?
Otis is a good guy and coach. I love his passion for the game and the knowledge he brings to the table. He definitely pushes his players to play at a high level.
You were in the same group with Turkey, Australia and Argentina – three teams ranked higher than Nigeria. How were you able to record wins against the Aussies and Turks?
It was the spirit of God matched with our willingness to compete together for 40 minutes. Those two wins were special for us. However, the win against Turkey was the victory that really gave us a glimpse of what could happen when our team stays focused and pays attention to details. Although we got down, we were solid and managed to pull through down the stretch.
Were you surprised at what you were able to achieve in Spain?
I was not because I knew we had it inside of us. I knew we were able to compete at a high level if we gave it our all. But I definitely couldn’t believe it. I was – and still am – in awe.
Were you under pressure ahead of the World Cup?
Yes and no. A lot of the pressure I felt came from being hard on myself. Pressure came from wanting to make sure I put myself in a position to lead my teammates and have their backs at any cost. My focus was remaining professional in every setting because I know people are watching. Once we reached the World Cup, the pressure sort of drifted because after months of training camp, I was able to start settling into my role comfortably in the team comfortably.
The team faced a lot of challenges during preparations for the tournament – including the changing of coaches. What effect did these challenges have on the team?
I think more than anything the challenges we faced brought us closer together. It made our sisterhood even stronger. We had goals that we expected to achieve. We could not achieve those goals without each other. We relied on our sisters to get us through adversity.
You were one of Nigeria’s best performers at the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket which D’Tigress won. What was the target before the tournament?
The target was just to set the bar extremely high and compete at the highest level. Training and staying healthy paid off in the end.
Nigeria went 8-0 at the tournament but the semi-final match against hosts Mali, which you won 48-47, was perhaps the toughest of the matches you played en route to winning the title. What was on your mind during the match?
That match was very intense and competitive. Both teams played extremely well. During the game, my mind was focused on not letting it get down to the wire. There were so many factors against us; any little mistake would have cost us the victory.
The AfroBasket Women is coming up again next year. Do you think Nigeria can retain the title you won last year?
Absolutely. Right now we are the champions and nobody can take that from us. The only way is if we give it to them and that will never happen. We are D’Tigress. We worked and are working hard to be the best.
You play for Vasas Akademia SC in the Hungarian League. How would you describe the Hungarian league compared to that in the USA?
The competition in Hungary last season was really good. I enjoyed playing against some of the top players there. I was able to fit right into the fast-paced environment. Leading the Hungarian league in points, steals and getting the Defensive Player of the Year award was proof that I am the product of my own hard work.
Why did you choose Hungary after you decided to play professionally outside the USA?
I chose Hungary because I had never been there before and I had heard many great things. I wanted to go somewhere I had never been before to get a better experience culturally as well as athletically.
You were born in the US and started basketball there – so you were eligible to play for the American national team. What made you choose Nigeria instead?
I chose to play for Nigeria because although I was born in the USA, I felt my roots began at home in Nigeria.
How much did you know about Nigeria before joining the national team?
I knew much about Nigeria. Before playing with the national team, I had travelled to Nigeria every three years with my family. I am from Aba in Abia State. I also have my family in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
Which Nigerian language can you speak?
I can speak and understand a little Igbo. Pidgin is a lot easier.
What is your best Nigerian food?
My best Nigerian food is egusi soup with pounded yam.
What are your strengths in the sport?
My strengths are defence and leadership skills.
Why did you choose basketball ahead of other sports?
Basketball was the sport that my heart chose. I also play volleyball and had a volleyball scholarship; however basketball was the sport that led me to believe I can become something amazing.
How supportive were your parents when you started basketball?
They were very supportive.
The USA have a team made up mostly of players of African descent. Do you think these players would have impacted a change in the fortunes of African teams if they had chosen to play for the countries of their parents?
Yes, I believe so.
How can Nigeria and Africa bridge the gap between them and the developed countries in the sport?
They can bridge the gap by showing the world that Africa has so many talents to offer. We should create platforms for the younger generations so they too can open up to the world’s eyes.
What are your most memorable moments in the sport?
I have several memorable moments – scoring 1,000 and 2,000 points in high school (Science Park), getting my jersey retired at my high school on December 21, 2017, scoring 1,000 and 2,000 points in college (Savannah State), winning a MEAC championship at my college (March 2015), scoring the game-winning shot against South Korea in the OQT in 2016 and winning AfroBasket Women 2017. Lastly, playing in the World Cup and making history for Nigeria.
What has been your worst moment so far?
My worst moment so far was tearing my ACL back in 2012 against University of Florida.