Great piece on UCLA’s Chinyere Ibekwe

Great piece in today’s Daily Bruin about the senior forward, who is working hard in her senior year instead of getting by on her athleticism alone:

A lot of players are in the same boat.

The story explains that none of this growth would be taking place without first-year coach Nikki Caldwell, who has helped “push her to her athletic limits as never before.”

Even before Ibekwe stepped on the court for Caldwell, she had a feeling about her new coach.

“When it was announced that Nikki was our coach, even before I met her, there was something that drew me to her,” Ibekwe said. “When you meet people, you’re either all in or all out, and I was all in with her.”

That is when things started turning around. By deciding she was “in,” Ibekwe committed herself to facing the adversity of her junior year and learning from it.

“(Ibekwe’s success) started with her mental attitude about wanting to have a great senior year. … She’s somebody who has taken that to heart,” Caldwell said. “I think she has taken pride in wanting to be that go-to player inside. But I think it started with a change in her mindset.”

Under Caldwell, Ibekwe quickly realized it would no longer be enough to coast on her athleticism alone. Caldwell pushed her to bring fire, aggressiveness and discipline every day. She is being pushed to her athletic limits as never before.

“You have to make up your mind every day on what type of leader you want to be when you step on the floor,” Caldwell said. “There are days when she’s done that and days when she needed the help of her teammates to get it done. But she is doing it more than she has probably ever done in the past.”

The numbers verify what Caldwell says. Ibekwe has eclipsed her sophomore statistics and leads the team both in rebounding and blocked shots by quite a bit in Caldwell’s system that preaches board play and defense.

And Ibekwe appreciates everything Caldwell has done for her as a senior.

“I feel (Caldwell) had the choice to not deal with me and focus on her younger classmen, but she has really embraced me, asked me to be a leader, and I’m doing as much as I can to help her,” Ibekwe said.