Ibekwe Learning Fast

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Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | May 18, 2011

Ify Ibekwe is known for her quickness, but the Seattle Storm's second-round pick is definitely moving fast as she attempts to pick up the Head Coach Brian Agler's offense and defense and adjust to a different style of play. Along with the Storm's other rookies, Ibekwe has been trying to keep up during the first week of practice. Starting last week, when they arrived in Seattle to begin working out in preparation for camp, a lot has been thrown at the newcomers.

"It's been kind of challenging, knowing that I'm transferring over from college to professional," Ibekwe said after her third practice on Tuesday. "It's been fun too. I've learned a lot since I've been here. I think it's a week now? It's been a good experience to have.

 Ify Ibekwe scores.
Ibekwe's ability to play around the rim helped her break Adia Barnes' career rebounding record at Arizona.
Courtesy University of Arizona Athletics

"He's throwing a lot of defensive and offensive stuff, but all of us newcomers are picking it up fast. It's different because the pace we're going at is faster at this level as far as knowing it. In college, they'll give you a week to learn a play. But we've all done it. I'm learning really quickly. I ask a lot of questions; that's just how I am."

One early lesson has been for Ibekwe to slow down. That's been a regular refrain from the coaching staff to Ibekwe and other rookies, who tend to rush as they adjust to the speed of the WNBA game. For Ibekwe, that's an adjustment because her fast-paced game has historically played to her advantage.

"I always was taught to go fast," she explained. "If you mess up but you're going fast, you make up for your mistakes because you're going hard. At this level, I've realized that it's not about going fast. It's about using your speed - knowing when to slow it down, pick it up and slow it down again. That's just something I have to learn. It's going to be good for me to be a better player, actually."

At the University of Arizona, Ibekwe's aggressive mentality made her a quick study. A starter by midway through her freshman season, Ibekwe made the Pac-10's All-Freshman Team. That presaged an impressive four-year career, which saw Ibekwe emerge as the conference's leading rebounder and Defensive Player of the Year in both her junior and senior seasons.

The performance caught the attention of the Storm's coaching staff. Agler compared Ibekwe to Storm forward Swin Cash in terms of her size, skill set and athleticism. Getting that kind of talent in the second round was ideal for the Storm, which was seeking more size on the wing to replace the 6-2 Svetlana Abrosimova and 6-4 Jana Veselá, last year's top perimeter reserves.

Like Cash and countless other WNBA players before her, Ibekwe has to tailor her game for the WNBA. Primarily a post player in college, Ibekwe has worked to broaden her skills and doesn't mind playing on the perimeter. After making just seven three-pointers during her first three seasons at Arizona, Ibekwe made 28 as a senior.

Showing that kind of ability will definitely help Ibekwe's chances of making the Storm's final 11-player roster. Though Agler thinks the last couple of players on the roster could come from multiple positions, he made sure to note the importance of versatility.

Agler has liked what he's seen of Ibekwe early in training camp.

"Good athlete, good instincts for the game," he said. "Has the ability to finish at the rim. She's made good defensive plays. She's done well."

Yet Ibekwe knows there are no guarantees, and that's reflected in her approach to training camp.

"Regardless of anything that happens," she said, "it's an experience you should enjoy. Don't be so hard on yourself if you make a mistake; let it go. Give your all, because you don't want to regret anything. That's what I try to do every day because you never know what's going to happen tomorrow. I might get cut."

That advice was given to Ibekwe by a familiar figure in Seattle basketball circles - Seattle University women's Head Coach Joan Bonvicini, who recruited Ibekwe to Arizona and coached her as a freshman. Ibekwe counts Bonvicini as an important mentor during her basketball career.

"She's probably the person that had the most faith in me coming out of high school," Ibekwe said. "She just said that if I want something, I can get it. She always told me I have all the talent in the world and all the potential, but it's me actually doing it and getting there, because it's not going to be easy. I've carried that on through my college career and gotten here."

Bonvicini was at Monday's Storm practice to watch Ibekwe and former Seattle U forward Breanna Salley, who was later waived. Ibekwe has also had another Arizona connection in the practice gym in the form of Storm color analyst Adia Barnes, whose school career rebounding record Ibekwe broke last season. The two Wildcats legends had never met before last week, but Barnes along with Bonvicini has been a supportive presence for Ibekwe during training camp - no matter how fast it's moved.

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