Feb. 27, 2008
BY LARA BOYKO
Lara Boyko covers a variety of sports for CSTV.com.
Of all the nicknames people get when they are growing up, for 6-foot-2 senior forward Valerie Ogoke from Loyola Marymount in the West Coast Conference, one of hers was quite silly and based upon a loveable Disney character.
"People used to call me Goofy," said Ogoke. "I also used to be called the Jolly Green Giant all of the time because I was the tallest girl in my class and taller than the boys. I was really skinny and awkward looking."
The nicknames were not only fitting for Ogoke due to her appearance off the court, but also for her performance on the court.
"Naturally I was good at defense, but I was really bad at offense so my high school coach started working on my skills," said Ogoke. "The dribbling and scoring were hard for me because I was clumsy and uncoordinated and didn't understand how to do both without being so clumsy. I wish I had video tapped how I played when I was a freshman because I'm sure everyone would get a good laugh out of how bad I looked while trying to play initially."
Her clumsiness may have been one obstacle to overcome, yet it was helping those close to her understand the game that has been an ongoing challenge.
"My mom is from Nigeria and she had to learn about basketball from watching me play," said Ogoke. "She played volleyball when she was in Nigeria, but never played basketball or ever thought about it. She picks up things really fast though. Some times I will talk to her about basketball but she doesn't really understand it. If you hear her talk about basketball it's pretty funny because she will make up her own words for encouraging things to say."
While Ogoke and her mom find middle ground on the basic terminology of basketball and Ogoke was able to move past her awkward teenage years, it is the transition she has made in the game of basketball that seems to be more of an accomplishment. After all while most players in today's game seem to have been given a basketball upon exiting the womb, Ogoke was more of a late bloomer in the sport.
My brother really encouraged me to do it because he was really into it. In seventh grade I decided to try it, but I sucked so bad that I wasn't sure if I was going to keep playing until I got to St. Mary's Academy for high school," said Ogoke. "My freshman year (ninth grade) is when over the summer the coach there really introduced me to the game and got me into it. It's funny to think back on it and how nobody would expect me to be where I am today."
Today it is Ogoke's skills on the court - as currently ranked first in the WCC in offensive rebounds per game (3.73), second in total rebounds, sixth in defensive rebounds (4.77), fourth in blocked shots (1.69 per game) - and off the court as a finance and management major set to graduate this year, that are no laughing matter. Instead, life is quite serious for Ogoke who is helping her LMU Lions secure second place before heading into the WCC tournament March 6.
Getting to the rewards of today for Ogoke is the result of patience, hard work and giving things - both on and off the court - a second chance.
"I did not like my first finance class and questioned it considering I am a finance major," said Ogoke. "Yet my favorite class was my real estate finance class last semester as it was so interesting and I never got bored. I like things that are challenging, but I want to be able to understand it. The class was challenging and once I understood it, I loved it!"
Just as challenging as her preparation on the court.
"Coach was trying to get me to do a crab dribble (dribble and scoop lay up in the post position)," said Ogoke. "I liked to do just one dribble so I could be quick. Then when I started playing and would get pushed out, I realized I couldn't take just one dribble because I was too far out. My legs are long but not that long! The coaches kept trying to get me to do two dribbles so I could get closer to the basket, but I felt so weird and slow with two dribbles. Once I got it down, I was really good at it. I definitely bumped heads with coach about that one and she was right, just like she always is."