Grateful NU bids ‘Foamy’ farewell (Column)

Abe Rakov

In the last four years, the Wildcats have averaged two Big Ten wins a season, lost 14 games by at least 30 points and have gone through two coaching staffs.

It’s really not fair that senior Ifeoma Okonkwo is the only member of this class – the only person who went through those four years.

Through it all she’s never complained. When it seemed like everyone around her was jumping ship, she stuck with the program. And it has paid off.

Okonkwo’s scoring average has gone up every season. This year she is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and minutes, all while starting a career-low nine contests. She said she isn’t ready to give up basketball after the season is over, and is thinking about continuing her career overseas. According to NU coach Beth Combs, Okonkwo should have no trouble finding a job.

All I know is that there were times in the past two years Okonkwo has been the best player on the court, and in the Big Ten that’s saying a lot. If she can get a little more consistent, she’ll succeed in professional basketball.

In the midst of what will be NU’s ninth-straight losing season, Okonkwo has been the bright spot. On Feb. 5, the four-year player finally had the chance to celebrate something while at NU, as she scored her 1,000th-career point. What made it better is she got the milestone during one of the team’s 27 wins games since she’s been in Evanston. Unfortuately for Okonkwo, the team has lost 83 games in the same time.

But Foamy, as she is affectionately nicknamed, will leave more to NU than just an added line in the history section of the media guide. Last year, the only thing chemistry meant to the Cats was a possible class choice. Now, with Okonkwo leading the team, the players seem to care more about each other, and want to win for the team.

“Every since freshman year I always felt that our team was so cliquey,” Okonkwo said. “This year is the first time I’ve felt like I was on a team.”

After the eight underclassmen on this squad spent this season getting to know the Spring Oak, Texas, native while learning from her, it’s time for Okonkwo to leave them behind. Senior night is always tough, but what do you do for a player that has gone through so much and received so little in return? When it looked like this program was sinking, Okonkwo helped bring it back up. While six wins this season may not seem like anything has be righted, with all the personnel losses and new faces, this program could have crumbled.

With what Okonkwo is leaving behind, this team is on the rise. Next year, the Cats will undoubtedly snap their soon-to-be seven-year streak of earning fewer than 10 wins. Who knows what will happen the year after? But any success NU attains in the next couple seasons can be, at least in part, attributed to one athlete.

“Senior night is all about Ifeoma Okonkwo this year,” Combs said. “In a lot of ways I’m glad we only have one senior so we can really honor her the best way there is to be honored for what she’s done for Northwestern.”

Tonight is the last time Okonkwo will play at Welsh-Ryan Arena for NU, and I’m giving up my ticket to see Allen Iverson take on the Bulls to be there. I’m not going to say you’ll see a win if you go, but Ifeoma deserves a proper send-off from the NU community.

Deputy sports editor Abe Rakov is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]