Wake up, make the bed, brush teeth, change clothes, go to class. Such is the daily routine that is no stranger to most college students. But to be confused for a relative of an NBA star? Such is the amusing and unique reality of guard Chinenye Okafor’s ’07 daily life.
“‘Are you related to Emeka Okafor?’ Let’s see, a normal day would mean I hear that question at least once or twice if not more,” Okafor said. “Sometimes people say ‘You should just tell people yeah, you’re related.’ Thanks, but that’s OK.”
While Chinenye, or “Nenye” as she is known by her teammates, is far too often confused with the former UConn superstar and current rookie standout for the Charlotte Bobcats, her assumed relation to a basketball star is not too far off-base. The 5-foot-10 guard from Rolla, Mo. is the younger sister of Parade High School All-American and Stanford forward Eziakama, or “Ezi” for short. But while her older sister has often dominated the headlines, Chinenye’s high school career and play this year for the Bulldogs illustrates that she more than deserves her own basketball identity.
Chinenye herself was a Missouri All-State selection her senior year as well as a three-time all-district and all-conference player. Through 12 non-conference games this year, she started in 11. She is the third leading scorer on the team with 7.8 points per game as well as the second leading rebounder with 4.7 boards a game. Despite such impressive stats, Okafor said her biggest contribution to the team has nothing to do with numbers.
“I feel that part of my role on this team is to bring the energy, determination and passion that we need on the court,” Okafor said.
Head coach Amy Backus echoed Okafor’s sentiments by emphasizing Chinenye’s constant effort and perseverance on the court.
“She is our energizer and can get to the glass with a several people hanging on,” Backus said. “She gives us a presence on defense because of her tenacity.
In spite of her personal success, the team struggled with consistency last year and is off to a dismal 3-11 start this season. But even amidst adversity, as Backus said, Chinenye is constantly a great presence on the court and off.
“Nenye is very competitive, wants to win,” Backus said. “But off the court she is usually the team comedian.”
Chinenye insists that while last season was frustrating, it was not completely a waste.
“Last year was a difficult season,” Okafor said. “But I took away from it something that I always knew: that we can play with and beat any team in the Ivy League if we put our minds to it.”
Okafor believes that Yale can surprise many teams and win the Ivy League this year. And as a member of a very talented and promising sophomore class, including standout twin towers Erica Davis ’07 and Julie Mantilla ’07, Okafor has high aspirations as a Bulldog.
“For my career here at Yale, my goal is for us to make it past the second round in the NCAA Tournament,” Okafor said. “I believe that a team led by [Davis, Mantilla and me], and our other 10 truly amazing teammates, we will accomplish [those goals].”
Okafor’s confidence in the face of adversity runs in the family. Sister Ezi, a redshirt sophomore for Stanford, was sidelined her first two years with injuries. But as Chinenye explains, that has not stopped her sister from remaining poised.
“I have learned from her to never give up,” Okafor said. “Every time I would talk to her, she would be like, ‘Yeah, it sucks, but it just means I have more time to get better.’ She was training, lifting, and going to rehab constantly, day in and day out, to make sure that when she came back she was better than before.”
Teammates with Ezi since the fourth grade, Chinenye has spent much time with her older sister. But when asked if it was ever frustrating being the little sister of star Ezi, Chinenye explains that the only thing that bothered her was getting the short end of the stick in sisterly disputes.
“The only difficult thing about being little sister to Ezi was when we fought,” Chinenye said. “In the end, it was always my fault and I was the one who got in trouble with my parents — it wasn’t fair.”
Grumbling aside, Chinenye recognizes an important lessons she has learned from her sister: to always be confident but humble and dedicated enough to constantly improve in basketball and in life. It is these lessons that have allowed Chinenye, no matter who she is confused with or how much her teams struggles, to emerge as a star in her own right.