Column: Next step for Ikpa

Shawn Ikpa is one of my favorites, one of the best kids I've ever met through this job. So when his graduation announcement came across my desk it brought a smile to my face.

Of the many reasons to admire the guy - and there are plenty - add another. Ikpa is now a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, a distinguished accomplishment for a distinguished person.

The former Berkmar basketball star is back in town on a 30-day leave, spending time relaxing and catching up with his family before beginning his Naval career at the end of the month.

The 22-year-old leaves for Norfolk, Va., where he'll eventually be stationed, on June 27 for firefighting school. That's the first step toward his new job in which he will oversee a group of 20 electronics technicians and engineers as an auxiliary officer working under a ship's chief engineer.

Ikpa is looking forward to that job, to getting on the ship that will be his home. But for now he's content to relax and reflect.

"I've been looking forward to it for a while," Ikpa said of his break.

The vacation is called "basket leave," a time for Academy graduates to move out of Annapolis and find a home for themselves. For Ikpa it comes three years after his basketball leave, when he made the difficult decision to stop playing hoops at Navy.

The cornerstone of Berkmar's 2000-2001 back-to-back state title teams, Ikpa's goal was to play Division I basketball. He achieved that goal but soon found out how difficult it is to juggle sports and academics at a service academy. So after his

freshman year he gave it up.

"I wanted to focus on my classes and doing things with my company," Ikpa said. "The first year I missed it a lot. After that I found things to take (its place)."

Ikpa still played in pick-up games, but the determination and doggedness that set him apart in organized basketball was channeled toward school. The trade-off was well worth it according to Ikpa, the 2001 Daily Post Boys Basketball Player of the Year known for his leadership and unselfishness.

He earned a degree in information technology with a second discipline of

national security affairs and will begin his Naval career as an ensign, the equivalent of a second lieutenant in the army.

After he completes a

minimum of five years in the Navy, Ikpa has designs on using the national security part of his education. But for now he's concentrating on firefighting school. And there's still basketball.

"I'm trying to stay in shape," he said. "They have some good players up in Norfolk, some real good games at the base. And I want to be competitive when I go up."

Todd Cline can be reached via e-mail at todd.cline@gwinnettdailykpost.com . His column appears on Tuesdays.