Promise, the world: ASU’s Amukamara takes international stage with Nigeria in Olympics

Former Apollo High and Arizona State standout Promise Amukamara will represent Nigeria in the Tokyo Olympics and face the U.S. in opening round women’s basketball competition. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – With Opening Ceremonies set for Friday, one Arizona State graduate is closer to making history. Promise Amukamara will represent Team Nigeria this year in Tokyo and is the first ASU women’s basketball player to make an Olympic team

“I’m just so grateful and blessed to be able to have played here at ASU, and then carry on with my career in the professional and being able to be called up for the Nigerian National team and play for them,” Amukamara said. “It’s crazy and I’m just in shock that everything has happened. I’m in shock and it’s been a dream come true.”

Amukamara played for Nigeria’s World Cup Team in 2018 and 2019. She also was on the 2019 FIBA African Championship Gold Medal team and participated in the Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Nigeria’s National Team has gained recognition over the years for its recent accomplishments, most notably the near upset against Team USA in the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Nigeria led almost the entire game before Team USA went on a 26-14 run in the fourth quarter to win 76-71.

“In the past we were just happy to make it to the tournament or play a game against USA,” Amukamara said. “We didn’t know we could go foot to foot with these teams but now we’ve gained the respect of other teams and I think we’re on people’s radars and that’s a good thing. We’re on the rise and I think that’s good for the future of Nigerian basketball.”

Amukamara’s teammate Atonye Nyingifa has also seen the growth of Nigerian basketball.

“When I first started, we didn’t have a lot of resources,” she said in a postgame press conference Sunday. “We were going in playing other African countries, and Afro basket tournaments. It was tough, and it was hard. And we had very little. I think over the years, the growth has just been amazing.”

Nigeria will compete in Group B which also features the U.S. France and Japan. On Sunday, Nigeria fell to the U.S. 93-62 in a pre-Olympics exhibition. The teams square off for real at 9:40 p.m. (MST) Monday night.

Amukamara played almost 20 minutes in the exhibition game, contributing two points and three assists.

“I feel 100% confident that we could play with anybody that’s in our group,” Amukamara said. “We’re not just trying to go to the Olympics. We’re trying to medal.”

Nigerian coach Otis Hughley Jr. understands what going to the Olympics means for Amukamara and all his players.

“They’ve been dreaming about it ever since they picked up a basketball,” Hughley said. “They’ve been through a lot of tough times, a lot of adversity, to get to this point. I’m so excited for them. These kids can build their careers, their brand and create memories that will last for a lifetime.”

Early career

By her freshman year of high school, Amukamara was already making a name for herself both on the basketball court and the track. She still holds the school record for the fastest 100 meters and 200 meters by a freshman. She was also named the Rookie of the Year on the basketball team.

“She came in freshman year. Just to see her dribble a ball and the unbelievable speed she had was incredible,” Apollo girls basketball coach Susan Prado-Ortiz said. “As a freshman, I mean I could tell when she was going to be something.”

Amukamara continued to grow as a player. During her junior year campaign in 2010, she helped lead Apollo to its first state championship appearance in over 30 years when it lost to Shadow Mountain by 10 points. The very next year, she took Apollo back to the state championship but this time the team won it all.

“I remember in the huddle after the loss. I said, ‘Ladies, if you will give me everything you got this, this next season, and do everything you can. I promise you we’ll be back again,’” Prado-Ortiz said about the state championship loss. “Sure enough, Promise was the leader, a quiet leader, but she was the leader and we went back the following year, and we beat Shadow Mountain by 10.”

Prado-Ortiz called Amukama “a coach’s dream because she would never talk back, never complain. She would just work hard the entire time. It is beautiful to see her reap the benefits of all the hard work she’s put in.”

Due to Amukamara’s solid play, she won many awards in high school, including Arizona’s Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year in 2011 while also attracting the attention of ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne.

Amukamara played in all 131 games during her four years at ASU. She helped the Sun Devils to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance her senior year. She was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team twice and to the All-Pac-12 First Team once.

Amukamara credits the coaching staff at ASU for helping her grow on and off the court.

“The stuff (Turner Thorne) teaches as far as defense and just little principles of the game of basketball really helped shape the person and player I am today,” Amukamara said. “I’m always grateful for what I’ve learned here at ASU. It was a lot and I’m just grateful to learn everything.”

On to the pros

After her time at ASU, Amukamara was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury with the 36th pick in the 2015 WNBA draft. She played in two preseason games before being released and continuing her professional career overseas. She has played in Spain, Germany, Romania and most recently for Charnay in eastern France.

Although playing overseas has helped Amukamara develop her skills as a player, she said it is a challenge being away from family for so long.

“I think the core part of my career is just going overseas and leaving my family and playing long seasons,” Amukamara said. “I think that’s the difficult part of this whole ride but nevertheless, I’m so grateful and honored to be in the position I am.”

Along with getting to see the top athletes perform, being on the biggest stage in sports and proving herself as a player good enough to be in the WNBA, Amukamara is most looking forward to representing herself, her family and her country.

“I’m going to the Olympics and I want to have a good representation of Nigeria and my family.”

Kaylee Connors KAY-lee con-nors (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Kaylee Connors expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a certificate in marketing. Connors is an intern for Sun Devil Athletics Media Relations.