Nigerian basketballer Promise Amukamara’s persistence is carrying her to the Olympics

Jeff Metcalfe | azcentral

Promise Amukamara is something of a throwback to the days when women’s basketball players went overseas after college and only surfaced in the U.S. consciousness during an Olympic year. 

Amukamara finished strong as a senior at Arizona State, making All Pac-12, and snuck into the 2015 WNBA draft as the final pick by the Phoenix Mercury. Her game wasn’t complete enough then for the WNBA so she began playing overseas, first in Spain then Germany, Romania and most recently France.

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Those jobs paid the bills, allowing Amukamara to also play for the Nigerian national team, which in February qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Next summer, because of the Olympics being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Amukara will become the first ASU women’s basketball player to reach the Olympics. Former ASU forward Ike Diogu has been two Olympics with the Nigerian men’s team, which also qualified for Tokyo. 

“This is only a dream I had and to see it come into life is such a blessing,” said Amukamara, whose parents are Nigerian and grew up in Glendale, starring in basketball and track at Apollo High School. 

Amukamara played on Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup, 2019 AfroBasket championship and Olympic pre-qualifying teams, leading into an Olympic qualifying tournament. The Nigerians essentially wrapped up their first Olympic berth since 2004, and second ever, with a lopsided win over Mozambique on Feb. 6.

But they were far from done, taking favored/host Serbia and the heavily favored U.S. deep into the fourth quarter in 70-64 and 76-71 losses Feb. 8-9. Against the WNBA-laden Americans, Nigeria led 40-26 at halftime and 57-50 after three quarters but lacked the size to hold off 6-foot-9 Mercury center Brittney Griner in the fourth.

“We showed both teams what we’re about,” Amukamara said. “That gives our whole team a lot of confidence just to know we can play with whoever steps on the court with us. We earned our right to be there.”

Nigerian women’s basketball coach Otis Hughley talks to guard Promise Amukamara during an Olympic qualifying tournament in February in Belgrade, Serbia. Nigeria qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, now to be held in summer 2021. 

Nigerian women’s basketball coach Otis Hughley talks to guard Promise Amukamara during an Olympic qualifying tournament in February in Belgrade, Serbia. Nigeria qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, now to be held in summer 2021. (Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Amukamara, averaging 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, was among Nigeria’s leaders in Serbia along with point guard Ezinne Kalu and forward Adaora Elonu. Former Arizona forward Ify Ibekwe also plays for Nigeria, which could consider adding the youngest Ogwumike sister (Erica) to the Olympic roster.

The Tokyo Olympics now are scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021. Since mid-March, Amukamara has been back in Arizona, staying either with her parents or her brother Prince Amukamara, a 10-year NFL cornerback who signed last week with the Las Vegas Raiders. 

“It was kind of upsetting we had to postpone (the Tokyo Games),” Amukamara said. “But looking at the glass half full, it gives us more time to prepare and rest our bodies. We’ve been playing year-round non-stop for about two years. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise that we get to take this break in the summer and really regroup.”

The 5-9 Amukamara was an elite defender at ASU, twice making the All Pac-12 defensive team. Now she’s a better shooter and ball handler and more of a combination guard able to play both positions. She turns 27 in June and will be another year older by the Olympics and still hopes for a second chance to play in the WNBA.Get the Sports Breaking News newsletter in your inbox.

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She said playing against the likes of U.S. veterans Sue Bird and the Mercury’s Diana Taurasi can be intimidating “only because I’m going to be playing against the best. I love taking on that challenge. It gets me kind of nervous, but it’s a great opportunity not only to get better but to get exposure from other coaches who are watching. It’s a great opportunity to market yourself. I’m still waiting on my (WNBA) moment.”

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