UMBC women’s basketball graduate student Onome-Juliet Esadah recently chatted with PressBox about how she became interested in playing hoops in Nigeria, her long-term goals for back home and more. Esadah averaged 13.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last year.

PressBox: How did you become interested in basketball in Nigeria?
Onome-Juliet Esadah: I became interested because of my mom. She has always wanted me to play sports because I’m tall. She told me basketball will suit me and introduced me to [a coach] to teach me the game of basketball.

PB: You have 10 siblings. Is it an athletic, competitive bunch? Did you play basketball growing up with your siblings?
OJE: I am the only one that plays basketball in my family. My siblings are more into art and design.

PB: Why did you decide to move to the States from Nigeria in high school? Did anyone in your family come with you when you moved?
OJE: I’ve always wanted more for myself and my family. And I’ve always fantasized about life in a better and beautiful environment, specifically the USA. So, I worked really hard to make my fantasies a reality. I knew getting [a college scholarship] in the USA would open the door for the opportunity I’ve been dreaming about. After getting my education, I have great opportunities to explore my options here in terms of decisions on jobs, and raising a family in the States will give my kids a better opportunity as well. None of my family moved to the States with me. It’s just me here. My family are all back in Nigeria.

PB: What’s your favorite memory so far of playing college basketball?
OJE: I can’t pick just one favorite memory. However, my all-time favorite part is my senior night [at UNC Asheville in 2019-20]. I will never forget that night because the energy in the arena from my professors, Nigeria friends, classmates, and the fans was breathtaking. I can’t honestly describe how I was feeling that night, and the best part of that night was when my teammate and coaches surprise me with a video from my family back in Nigeria, coaches, and past teammates expressing how proud they are of me.

PB: What’s your favorite thing about UMBC and the Baltimore area?
OJE: The diversity of the school is impeccable and the different communities available to join like the art team, the gaming groups and things of that nature. I find it very interesting and is a great way for our school to reach better heights.

PB: Who’s your best friend on the team and what’s a story that underscores your friendship?
OJE: Alexia Nelson. A story that underscores our friendship is me making her run in practice one day after missing a layup she thought I didn’t see. Then a few days later she caught me missing two layups then we both ended up running together. So we push each other and hold each accountable for being the best player we both could be. Ever since then we have done everything together. Work out, studying, working and most importantly support each other. She is more like a sister to me.

PB: Who was a player you looked up to early in your college career and why?
OJE: Kawhi Leonard. The reason is because he portrays the role of a leader who leads by example. He’s not much of a talker. His action and work ethic speak for him.

PB: What advice would you give to younger players?
OJE: Do not be discouraged if someone tells you that your skills aren’t good enough. If you truly love the game, don’t give up. Know that you are special, unique, different, and believe that you will succeed just by continuing to work hard every day. Understand that you will make mistakes and things will not go as you expect, but it’s all right. We learn, we grow, but never give up no matter how difficult the circumstances.

PB: What are your goals for after basketball, whenever it ends?
OJE: I’m currently working on a business idea to help solve social issues in Nigeria. My idea is to use sports as an outlet to support, to motivate and empower kids in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. I will be collecting used shoes, clothing and other sports equipment that will be donated to impoverished youth in Warri. I want to empower kids to stay away from crime, to stay in school, to mentor them, to help them embrace their talents and to create a career path that will sustain them in the future. My business idea is to create a program in the States by collecting used and new shoes, jerseys, balls, etc., and distribute them to the kids in Warri. My mission is to work with different sport teams to set up a program that [encourages] student-athletes to give their used gear and shoes up for donation to help my community in Warri. In the future, my goal is to own a nonprofit organization here in America, and [I] hope to partner with an NGO that specializes in helping kids stay off the streets.

Photo Credit: David Sinclair

Issue 271: October/November 2021

Luke Jackson

See all posts by Luke Jackson. Follow Luke Jackson on Twitter at @luke_jackson10