Chinenye Okafor ’07 knows how to satisfy her cravings. Whether it’s the exhilaration of competition or a simple waffle run (with strawberries and whipped cream on top, of course), the Bulldog forward gets it done on and off the court.
The second of five children of immigrant parents, Okafor was raised in a strict household that emphasized hard work and academics above all other endeavors. In fact, basketball was quite an unlikely path for this girl growing up in a tight-knit Nigerian family in Rolla, Mo. She was only allowed to play in the local league when her parents heard that talented players had the opportunity to receive college scholarships. The decision paid off — over a decade later, all three college-age girls in the Okafor family play for Division I teams.
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In her younger days, the hope of keeping up with big sister Eziamaka served to motivate Nenye. She saw Ezi working hard, going to the gym and ultimately landing a spot at Stanford and was inspired to emulate her dedication. Now, the Bulldog forward plays with different motivations — the thrill of competition, a commitment to her teammates and the desire to take her team to new heights in her final year at Yale.
Nenye said she set a goal this year to round out her four seasons in Eli blue without a single regret.
“Competition really motivates me,” Okafor said. “I do all that I can for me or for whoever is on my team to win or to come out successfully.”
This honest approach to her life and her game does not go unnoticed. Yale women’s basketball head coach Chris Gobrecht said her number 32 has an unparalleled commitment to personal accountability.
“Nenye never dodges responsibility and would never think of blaming anyone or anything for something not being the way she wants it to be,” Gobrecht said. “She shoulders any burden, without complaint, and never makes excuses.”
Her teammates agree that her personal work ethic drives them to play better.
“She comes in every day and always has a great attitude and works extremely hard to make the team better,” guard Stephanie Marciano ’08 said. “I think she’s going to lead this team in our fight for an Ivy League Championship.”
Her work ethic no doubt carries over to her schoolwork. Good friend Christina White ’07 recalled many memories of the electrical engineering major — one of the few female undergraduates studying in the department — making her way over to practice after pulling an all-nighter in the lab.
“She’s involved in what seems like a million different things, but she’s dedicated and puts her best foot forward in all of them,” White said.
But in Okafor’s case, working hard does not come without its fair share of fun. Her friends find her playful nature infectious and always expect to smile when Nenye is in their company.
“Nenye is just fun … pure, unadulterated fun,” said friend Katrina Castille ’07. “Since meeting her, I have never had a dull moment.”
Castille went on to describe one night when Okafor found a mouse in her suitcase.
“She calls me at three in the morning screaming about this mouse and what to do with it,” Castille said. “It took her an hour to get the courage to take the suitcase and toss it outside, and another hour to check on it and make sure the mouse was gone. She screamed the whole time.”
Marciano recounted another case of Nenye’s excitability around small creatures.
“Last week when she saw a tiny, little fly she ran out of the shower in the locker room, screaming hysterically and jumped on the couch,” Marciano said. “Things like this happen all the time.”
Along with her lesser-known fears, Okafor also has some lesser-known talents. She sewed her own prom dress and can braid hair not only into French braids but micro braids and cornrows as well. And although she loves cooking, of her many interests, eating is “No. 1.”
At Yale, her sweet tooth was introduced to an entirely new delicacy — waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.
“My eyes lit up freshman year,” Okafor said. “I used to have a waffle for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
She also used to satisfy her sugar cravings with law school candy bars, until she realized she would often eat three in an hour. But old habits die hard.
“I haven’t had a candy bar in … oh, wait I just had one before I came here,” Okafor said laughing.
Nonetheless, Okafor, good natured and genuine, gives a whole new meaning to the sweet smell of success.