SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s been seven years since Ezinne Kalu last got the crowd off their feet inside Tiger Arena. But, even when her time at Savannah State came to a close, Kalu never stopped dribbling the basketball.
“I’m a firm believer in ‘when one door closes, another one opens’,” Kalu said over a zoom call. After graduating from Savannah State, Kalu turned pro and spent the next six years averaging double figures for teams in Portugal, Hungary, Germany and France.
Now, she’s ready to get buckets in another major country. Kalu is headed to Tokyo to represent Nigeria as a member of the women’s basketball team in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
“Nigeria is over millions of people and so many talented individuals who can have this position,” Kalu explained. “The fact that I’ve been chosen — I’m super grateful for it. I pray to God and thank God every day for the opportunituy.
Kalu, a New Jersey native whose father is Nigerian, made it nearly impossible for the national team’s coaches to leave her off the final roster. Throughout Olympic qualifying, Kalu showed the Nigerian staff what got her a place in the Savannah State record books as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“Putting on a show for people, diving for loose balls, helping your teammates off the floor and showing sportsmanship,” Kalu said. “But also showing competitiveness and I love the energy.”
Sounds like nothing’s changed since Kalu led Savannah State to a MEAC championship and the right to play powerhouse South Carolina in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Dawn Staley, head coach of that Gamecocks team, leads Team USA in Group B. Their first opponent? Team Nigeria.
“That makes me hungry,” Kalu said with a smile. “No team has even gotten close to beating them within one or two points.”
Team Nigeria nearly took down the United States during a 2020 Olympic qualifying game. Kalu led the team with 17 points and 4 steals in the 76-71 loss. This time, Kalu said she is determined to finish the job on the biggest stage with a team she believes is more than capable of pulling off an upset.
“Anytime we are on the court with each other we give 100% and that’s why we’ve been successful because we care about each other. We have love for each other off the court, but on the court as well when it’s important.”
Team Nigeria will face the United States early Tuesday morning at 12:40 a.m. Eastern Time.