Fellow teammates Ataira Franklin and China Crosby have referred to her as "an athletic freak of nature." Three days before the start of the season, head coach Joanne Boyle offered an extremely accurate prognostication.
"She is a tremendous athlete, but very raw. So much potential. When the lights come on and the fans are there, you are going to see some things we weren't able to do last year on the boards and running in transition and hustle plays."
When the lights turned off at John Paul Jones Arena on Nov. 9, sophomore forward Sarah Imovbioh had crashed the boards to the tune of 10 rebounds and had hustled her way to 22 points, tying the most ever by a rookie Cavalier in the season opener.
"At that opening tip, I was really, really nervous," Imovbioh said. "I think it took the first five minutes to get it out of my system. When I got it out, I just started playing. It seemed normal, just like in practice. When I got the rip-n-go and I went to the basket, I could hear the crowd and the support and that made me really really excited."
Imovbioh's debut was delayed a year after the NCAA ruled that she had to sit out last season because of a gap in her high school enrollment while living in Nigeria. She moved to Charlottesville when she was a 16-year-old sophomore, leaving behind her parents, two brothers, and a sister to pursue the opportunity to play in America.
"It's really hard because I really miss them a lot. I can't wait to
go back and see them," Imovbioh said. "I communicate with them
mostly through Facebook, or at least my sister. My mom is not into
Facebook, so I talk to her on the phone a couple of times a week."
Imovbioh has only been home once since coming to America. It was, ironically, the thing that originally took her away from her home country that gave her the opportunity to go home.
"Two summers ago, I was playing for the Nigerian national team and I got to go home for seven days," Imovbioh said. "We went to France after that to compete, but it was nice to see them for a little while."
The Nigerian national team was training in Washington, D.C., prior to their brief stop in the homeland and subsequent trip to Europe. Imovbioh plans to train with them again this summer, probably in Florida or possibly again in Washington D.C. She is hoping that the team will again head back to Nigeria.
Aside from her family, she also really misses the food of her home country, especially pounded yams, banga soup, Nigerian stew, and plantains. It didn't take long, however, to find new American loves.
"The first thing I fell in love with in America was McDonalds," Imovbioh said. "I landed in D.C. and I was hungry and the driver took me to McDonalds. I was like "WOW!!!!!!" I love the fries. Every day. Every night I had French fries straight for a month. They had to stop me. I love the French fries."
The transition to living in the United States was not an easy one. With English as her self-described "seventh language" (she is fluent in multiple Nigerian dialects including Benin, Edo, Hausa, Ibo, and Yooba as well as knowing a little bit of Arabic), it took her awhile to adjust. Once she did, Virginia became her top choice for college, not wanting to leave her beloved second home.
She credits her host family and guardians, Julia and Phil Stinnie, for giving her the support and acceptance she needed to make it through the transition. She also credits them for introducing her to her other love: the Olive Garden.
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