Nov. 2, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The transformation of women’s basketball at Marshall University is evident everywhere you turn.
New Coach Matt Daniel and his staff huddle with visiting prospects after practices and an exhibition game. The weight room where the players are getting stronger is getting a facelift. The Justice Locker Room entry way in the Henderson Center has been splashed with large, inspirational signage, too.
On the floor, the evidence of change is there, too, in more than Daniel’s run-but-don’t-hurry style. Making plays in the post is 6-foot-3 Chukwuka Ezeigbo.
If that’s not a familiar name, it could be soon. Ezeigbo – her full name is pronounced CHU-koo-ka e-ZEE-bo – could go from little-used freshman to significant sophomore in 2012-13.
She could be the Thundering Herd’s starting post player when Daniel’s team makes its regular-season debut next Friday at noon against visiting Radford.
“There was a point where I just saw myself improving,” Ezeigbo said Thursday night when asked about a turning point for her in preseason practice. “I was doing things I had never done before.
“I was running up and down the floor and we’re running plays to get me involved, so that gave me the confidence that, hey, they’re really interested in me, so I’m going to give them all I have.”
Ezeigbo – nickname “Chika” – was recruited to former MU Coach Royce Chadwick’s program from Notre Dame High in Trenton, N.J. As a freshman last season, she played only 78 minutes in 17 games – 15th on the team in minutes. She had 13 of her 31 season points in a home win over Longwood.
When the Herd made a coaching change, Ezeigbo said opportunity knocked. Daniel said she has opened the door.
“She’s worked very hard every day, and I like her work ethic,” the Herd coach said. “She usually comes to work every day and puts her hard hat on, and I think (Thursday’s exhibition win over Concord) was a good experience for her.
“I think every one of the players feels a little pressure and rightfully so, because life is pressure. Chika is a good kid, she makes mistakes like anybody else, but she usually bounces back.”
Ezeigbo said her parents met in college in New Jersey. Her father, Ambrose, is a native of Nigeria. Her mother, Jennifer, is from Jamaica. The Herd center had some anxious moments earlier this week, when Hurricane Sandy ripped through her native state, too.
“In Trenton (on the Delaware River), we’re on the other side of the state from the Jersey Shore, and it wasn’t nearly as bad where we live, but it’s all such a tragedy up there.
“I freaked out trying to reach my parents, and our home phone was out, but I finally got in touch with my mom after a while. They lost power for 2-3 days, but everything with them is fine now.”
Ezeigbo came off the bench on Thursday night, scoring eight points in 11 minutes, with three rebounds, a block and two steals. She is aggressive on the block, battles for position and knows how to use post moves to score.
“I really like the transition,” Ezeigbo said of the coaching change that has given her a new outlook. “Coach has given me a chance to show what I really have in my game, what I can do. It gives me a chance to give the team my support.
“When the change was made, I definitely felt like it was a new opportunity, and I was very excited. For me, it was something like an audition. I showed them what I have, and they use me to the way that they feel helps the team.”
Ezeigbo appeared headed to the Air Force Academy for college basketball. She made a verbal commitment and said she had a pending commission from a New Jersey congressman. However, she backed away and came to Marshall.
“I originally was going to go to the Air Force Academy, but then I decided the (military) commitment was too much for me,” Ezeigbo said, “so I relinquished that. I thought it was definitely not for me, because I didn’t think I was able to be part of that military life. I’m more a person who likes to do what I want to do.”
She then picked the Herd over St. Bonaventure, Chicago State, South Florida and Old Dominion.
It was a decision that looks like it will pay off, if a year later than perhaps she expected, and Ezeigbo hopes for more significant playing time as Daniel’s team plays its final exhibition Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Henderson Center against Division II Kentucky State.
“This system is definitely faster, more based on execution,” Ezeigbo said of Daniel’s teachings that often include what he calls “Basketball 101” to a team that’s learning a different way to play. “He wants everything to be perfect that we do.
“It’s attention to detail, and attitude and how you carry yourself is very important. You put forth the attitude, 100 percent every practice, every play. He wants great effort.
“I’m learning how to rebound more aggressively, how to make better post moves, individually do my job as part of the team, so we can all bring a better effort.
“It’s a style of play people have to like to play. It’s not hard. It’s just run and run and put all of your effort into it. A lot is expected of us, but that’s fine with me.”
In Ezeigbo, Daniel sees mostly promise and potential.
“I’ve been impressed with Chika early, and expect for her to be one of our mainstays and I hope she can come along and really help us inside,” Daniel said. “She’s physical, not afraid to be physical, plays really hard. She says, ‘Yes, sir, no, sir, which way do I go, sir,’ and anytime a kid is eager and willing to be like that, then they can learn and grow.”