Evelyn Akhator and Chantel Osahor were two names with Nigerian-connection at the 2017 WNBA Draft held on Thursday 13 April in New York.
For Evelyn Akhator, selected third overall by the Dallas Wings, her new team will feel very much like home for the fact that Dallas is one of the cities with a large population of Nigerians in the United States.
Prior to her selection in the draft, Akhator was a vital component in the Kentucky Wildcat’s frontcourt, where she averaged 15.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. She also made history as the first ever Wildcat to receive the highest selection in the WNBA Draft and the third to be selected in the first round since A’dia Mathies in 2013.
Chantel Osahor is American-born but with Nigerian ancestry; her parents were both born in Nigeria before immigrating to the United States. The 6’2 centre carved a niche for herself with her unorthodox shooting style while playing for the Huskies in University of Washington. While Osahor’s perimeter shooting is, perhaps, the reason for her popularity, her post dominance is arguably her greatest asset. Osahor is a consistent double-double machine capable of contributing 20-20 in points and rebounds category on nights when she is on a roll.
Despite being selected in the second round, Osahor could be the steal of the night for the Chicago Sky. Her steady and meteoric rise has been an impressive spectacle to watch just as much as it is a mystery for a player who is probably three inches shorter than her listed 6’2.
On draft night, after watching her Huskies teammate Kelsey Plum selected first overall, Osahor said she turned off the television as she was not sure about where she would land. That is understandable given that Osahor has largely been slept on her entire career until she started letting her game speak.
“I was at my house in my room just lying down. I didn’t want to watch it. Then my agent called me and some old coaches who were there (at the draft in New York City) texted me. It was very nerve-wracking. I think it was for everybody.”
Fans of basketball in Nigeria are eager to see how these two will perform in the WNBA as they transition into their professional careers. While there is a good chance that Akhator will play for the Nigeria Senior Women’s Basketball team in the near future, Osahor prefers to take some time in making that decision.
During the NCAA Final Four run, Osahor met with Mfon Udoka, a Nigerian basketball legend who led the country to its only two African Championship titles and Olympic appearance till date. Osahor told Udoka at the meeting that there is a chance she would play for Nigeria.
“Right now, she has a lot of pain and knee issues. She wants to get healthy,” Udoka said.
Osahor’s obvious weakness is her speed. WNBA trainers might want to focus on getting her up to the speed and rigours required in the WNBA, where players often play four games in six nights with lots of back-to-backs.