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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Outplaying Ibekwe Siblings Is a Tall Order

January 28, 2003|Eric Sondheimer

Ekene Ibekwe is a 6-foot-9 All-City basketball player from Carson High who signed with Maryland. Sister Chinyere is a 6-1 sophomore who leads the Carson girls' team in scoring.

Brother Onye is a 6-8 freshman forward at Oklahoma State. Sister Effi is a 6-1 eighth-grader.

This is a family that wears large shoes and shops at stores that cater to giants. It raises a perplexing question: How did these children survive years traveling in the back seat of their mother's small car?

"It was mayhem," Ekene said. "Everybody was squeezed in."

Said mother Agatha: "What could we do?"

Two years ago, the family purchased the biggest sport utility vehicle it could find.

"They love it," Agatha said.

To Austin and Agatha Ibekwe, watching their children play basketball is fun, but education is sacred. The two had come to the United States from Nigeria more than 20 years ago to attend college. They had known each other in Nigeria and got married here. They started a family, and each of their children has received a firm reminder where basketball fits in.

"If you don't do well in school, you don't play," Austin said.

Ekene has become one of the top players in the nation in leading Carson to a 15-3 record. He's averaging 19 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots.

Among his accomplishments during a six-game winning streak are a 27-point, 15-rebound effort against Compton Centennial and a 13-point, 14-rebound performance against Bakersfield Garces and Robert Swift, its 7-1 center.

Ekene didn't have to prove anything this season after accepting his scholarship last November to defending NCAA champion Maryland. But getting his college commitment out of the way seemed to liberate him.

His focus isn't on scoring points or trying to impress scouts. He's having fun entertaining crowds with thunderous dunks and intimidating opponents with blocked shots. His defensive intensity is consistently good and his passes are precise.

"He's more into wanting to do the little things to win," Coach Richard Masson said.

Said Ekene: "In a way, I feel my mind is off college now. I'm blocking a lot more shots, running the floor more. I just got smarter all-around."

He's proud of his "little" sister Chinyere, who was interested in modeling and dancing until she took up organized basketball as an eighth-grader.

"I look at her and see her how people saw me when I was young -- someone with potential," Ekene said. "She has so much to learn."

Ekene has been giving her lessons on post moves. And he doesn't hold anything back. When the two played one-on-one several years ago at a park, Ekene wasn't too nice.

"He dunked on me three times," Chinyere said. "I tried to jump on his back."

Chinyere has helped Carson's girls' team to a 16-3 record and a 3-1 mark in the Marine League. She's averaging 16.1 points, 14.1 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and is shooting 67% from the field.

Being Ekene's sister, Chinyere came into Carson with many believing she'd be as good as him. Those unrealistic expectations required some toughness on her part. She shows flashes of becoming an intimidating presence in the middle.

"She matures every game," Coach Harry Holmes said. "She's going to be one of the better players we've had."

She has much to work on, particularly free throws. She has made only 28 of 65. But she's holding her own against top competition. Last week, she scored 14 points, had 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots in a 70-39 loss to City title favorite Harbor City Narbonne.

The children probably get their height from their mother's side of the family. Agatha is 5-11 and her grandfather was a 7-footer. She is a nurse at an elementary school. Austin is 5-10 and is an accountant.

None of the children dare to fake being sick to miss a day of school with Agatha around.

"They know they can't do that," she said. "They haven't ever tried."

The Ibekwe children have been taught that their family name stands for something.

"It lets me know I have something to be proud of," Ekene said.

Added Chinyere: "You can't embarrass your family; you can't disgrace your family."

It's going to be difficult for Chinyere when Ekene leaves for college this fall. He is providing unconditional friendship and encouragement.

"I'm going to miss him," she said. "If anything happens, my brother will always have my back. I love my brother to death."

*

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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