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"COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - FEBRUAY 19: USA Basketbal staff pose for photos at USA Basketball Headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/USAB)"

Once an Eagle, always an Eagle

Ohemaa Nyanin carries lessons from her athletic career at AU into her new role with USA basketball

When Ohemaa Nyanin pulled on her 00 AU basketball jersey in February 2006 for her first game against Bucknell University, she had no idea that her experience as a center for the Eagles would one day help her become the U.S. women's national team assistant director for basketball. 

“Even as I’m at my desk right now, it feels weird,” Nyanin said. “I thought I fit in the international relations world, but now I know that I also fit in the basketball world, and there is a bridge between the two that I can build.”

Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, Nyanin grew up the daughter of a World Bank employee, and she moved all of the globe during her childhood, gaining experiences in different cultures that ultimately inspired her to study international relations. She spent her teen years practicing with the Zambian national basketball team before attending boarding school in Pennsylvania. Throughout high school, she received numerous letters from college scouts, but her college decision, ultimately, had nothing to do with basketball.

As a student interested in foreign affairs, Nyanin chose to attend AU because of its top ranked School of International Service. It was only when she stepped on campus for the first time that she seriously considered continuing her athletic career.

During a summer enrichment program at AU before her freshman year, Nyanin met several members of the varsity basketball team, and she played pick-up games with them in between her program sessions. After several weeks of competing with the other girls on the court, Nyanin decided to try out for the varsity team.

“There isn’t really kind of a ‘I’m coming to American University because I want to walk on to their team,’” Nyanin said. “It was ‘I’m coming to American University because it’s top five in SIS, and then maybe I should walk on to the team,’ but then it kind of snowballed to where I am today. I’m very excited that AU gave me the opportunity to walk on because if not, I don’t think I would be sitting here right now.”

Nyanin spent most of her freshman and sophomore years on the bench, but she started to challenge the starters in practice at the start of her junior year. Despite her improvement, Nyanin averaged 5.6 minutes per game and never saw more than 12 minutes a game in her third season, and she quickly became frustrated.

"I’m very excited that AU gave me the opportunity to walk on because if not, I don’t think I would be sitting here right now.”
—Ohemaa Nyanin

“I never got the opportunity to make a mistake,” Nyanin said.

She left the team after her junior year and embraced life as a regular student, participating in a Latina sorority called Lambda Pi Chi, running for president of student government and serving as the president of the African student organization. However, she re-entered the basketball world during her first year of grad school when new head coach Matt Corkery offered her an athletic scholarship. Nyanin went on to start 31 games in the 2009-2010 basketball season and earn a spot on the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.

Corkery’s enthusiasm and support inspired to Nyanin stay at AU and work while she pursued her master’s degrees in Justice and Public Policy. She served as the director of basketball operations and focused her efforts on bringing the AU student-athletes into the community.

“When I became the director of basketball ops, I started the community service program within the basketball team, and the whole point of it was if we go out in the community and show face to say that we are not just the snotty [Northwest] D.C. kids, but we’re actually smart, and you know, good players and that actually do care about D.C. from [Southeast] to [Southwest] from [Northeast] to [Northwest], people might actually come to our games, and it worked.” Nyanin said. “We increased our fan base...just by going out into the community, which helped us in so many different ways. Every year it’s a different team, so many different dynamics every year, [so] working together to accomplish a goal off the court is always helpful.”

Ohemaa Nyanin stands on the sidelines during one her games at AU. Courtesy of Ohemaa Nyanin

Volunteering proved to be the element of Nyanin’s resume that caught the attention of U.S.A basketball. She helped run USA basketball summer tryouts in 2011 and 2014, and when a paid position opened up after the 2014 tryouts, Nyanin enthusiastically applied.

“I [didn’t] want to apply just because I want to go to the Olympics,” Nyanin said. “That’s not me. [It’s] because of the platform that U.S.A Basketball has and the good they do off of the court.”

Although Nyanin now holds the assistant director position for the USA Women’s Basketball national teams and has climbed the ladder since her days as a walk-on athlete at AU, she still carries with her memories from her time as an Eagle.

“Don’t take anything for granted and be humble,” Nyanin said, referring to the lessons that she learned during her collegiate athletic career.

Nyanin currently resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and she hopes to use her new position as assistant director to shape soft policy around the world. Her experience as a member of the AU basketball team allows her to approach challenges with the dedicated, disciplined mindset that defined her career on the court.

Although, she may no longer wear a jersey, Nyanin still hopes to be a key player in the sport of basketball through her work as an assistant director.

“I played basketball, I know the sport and I can learn their system,” Nyanin said. “I can’t add anything until I learn. Once there is an opportunity for me to add some innovations, I will go from there.”

Correction: A previous version of this story include a sentence that read "She spent her teen years practicing with the Zimbabwean national basketball team before attending boarding school in Pennsylvania." Nyanin played for the Zambian national team. The Eagle apologizes for this error. 

sscovel@theeagleonline.com


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