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IKPA: Local coach makes Nigerian connection with Enugu Men's Club

Donnie Ikpa

Donnie Ikpa

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Georgia State University basketball player Maryam Dogo, center, smiles with members of the Enugu Men's Club of Atlanta, a nonprofit of Nigerian immigrants welcoming their young countrywoman to the metro area.

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Georgia State University assistant women's basketball coach Jocelyn Wyatt

An assistant women's basketball coach at Georgia State, Jocelyn Wyatt, completed the best assist of her basketball career last weekend when she finally connected a local Nigerian charitable organization with one of her recruits from Nigeria.

The former Berkmar High School basketball standout pulled out all stops for the Enugu Men's Club of Atlanta to be able to reach out and support the 6-foot-2 forward, Maryam Dogo, who hails from Kaduna, Nigeria. When Maryam arrived on campus last fall, Wyatt didn't have to look too far to find a support family of sorts for the young lady.

The timing of Coach Wyatt's initial phone call couldn't have been more perfect as I was getting ready to attend the monthly Board of Trustees meeting of Enugu Men's Club of Atlanta.

The Enugu Men's Club of Atlanta is a nonprofit organization of men who grew up in the cosmopolitan Nigeria city called Enugu. Our mission is primarily to build and maintain a strong family that will in turn enable us to effectively serve the community. We all realize the importance of a strong family and its effect on our collective upbringings, and we want to continue that tradition as we strive to be better husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles, and try to harness all that to improve our respective communities.

When I shared the news with the rest of the trustees, we had to adjust the meeting agenda, as this became the only topic of discussion.

We unanimously agreed to reach out to Maryam and provide a home-away-from-home for her, because we all saw ourselves in this young lady after we left Nigeria several years ago in pursuit of further education. Some of us, back then, were fortunate enough to have friends waiting for us at the airport, but this young lady had no family here -- until last weekend.

The entire Enugu Men's Club's friends and families were at the GSU-Hofstra game to cheer on our newly adopted daughter, who immediately became a role model to Felix and Annie Ekpe's little girls -- Ifeoma and Chidera. One of the kids in our entourage incredulously asked his dad if the "basketball player came all the way from Nigeria?"

"Of course she did," the boy's dad responded. "Don't forget that we all came all the way from Nigeria."

"Wow!" was all the awestruck kid could muster.

The lady of the hour, Ms. Dogo, was simply overwhelmed with all the love and affection from the wives of Enugu Men's Club of Atlanta. Mrs. Annie Ekpe was busy making a list of Maryam's favorite Nigerian dishes, while the men were interested in her schoolwork and game schedules. The impressionable young lady patiently signed autographs for every member of our group before heading over to the Play4Kay desk to support the Kay Yow Cancer Foundation.

The group thanked the assistant coach, Jonathon "JB" Barbaree, who recruited Maryam out of Lamar Community College in Colorado. We also urged the coaching staff to go back and recruit more players from Nigeria, since there is now a loving and caring Nigerian community in the metro Atlanta. For all her efforts in making this connection, Coach Wyatt will be awarded an Ibo title whenever one of her recruiting trips brings her to Enugu. She truly exemplifies the traditional Ibo tribal saying that there's family in a foreign land -- Nwanne Di Na Mba.

While many have described Enugu, the east central Nigerian city I grew up in, as "small America," "the gateway to overseas" and many other names, those who grew up in Enugu are simply hard-working, humble, loving, unassuming and family-oriented. That is why there are thousands of Enugu people scattered in various cities all over the world. Between the mid-1970s and late 1980s, Enugu had enjoyed the highest per capita emigration rate among cities in Nigeria due to the help-the-next-guy mentality of those who left the city for further education overseas.

While we do many projects to help people in Enugu, we are trying to find more ways to help right here in the Atlanta area and are always open to suggestions. If you have ideas, please contact me at dikpa@hotmail.com.

More photos from the GSU-Hofstra game...

Donnie Ikpa is a digital product specialist at Southern Community Newspapers Inc., the parent company of the Gwinnett Daily Post and six other newspapers in Georgia. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Enugu Men's Club of Atlanta. He is also the president of another Nigerian nonprofit organization, the Udi-Ezeagu Association of Atlanta, which provides free health screenings in rural parts of Nigeria.