Agnes: Coming to India last year was a pivotal moment

The Nigeria-born Australian has risen to become one of the country’s brightest prospects.

Australian basketball player Emma-Nnopu in action during the U-18 Basketball Women Championship against Korea.   -  Sampath Kumar G.P.

It is perhaps an indication of Australia’s all-embracing culture that its U-18 basketball team coaches never felt the need to ask Agnes Emma-Nnopu about her background. “We have always known her as just Agnes,” a team official quipped with a smile.

It is no surprise then that in such a friendly and caring atmosphere, the 17-year-old, who was born in Nigeria before moving down under with her parents at the age of four, has risen to become one of Australia’s brightest prospects.

After having won the gold medal at the U-16 Asian Championships here in 2017, she helped Australia finish third in the U-17 World Cup. A scholarship to the elite Australian Institute of Sport has now marked her out as a special talent.

“Coming to India last year was a pivotal moment of my life,” she said at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. “lt was the first time I ever played for Australia. I came with my parents and they are here this year too. It feels great. It's like I am making them proud. For all the time they invested in me, driving me to training and other things…all that is not going to waste.”

Agnes’ ascent though isn’t without challenges. “I am playing more against older and bigger girls now, so it’s a step up. In this team, I am still one of the shorter ones. That could mean I will be a guard. I find the game a lot quicker when I am a guard and that’s a challenge. But I think I am making my way towards that.”

Her recent move to Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence has made her a better player she felt. “They've really helped me. From the start of this year till now, my shooting and ball-handling have definitely improved and my awareness as well.”

One of her stand-out qualities is her ability to deliver when it matters the most. In last year’s thrilling 61-60 final win over Japan, she starred with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 1 steal.

On Tuesday, after going scoreless against Korea in the first two quarters, she bounced back with 10 points and six rebounds which almost clinched the tie for the Gems. A repeat performance is very much on the cards.

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