Woman of the Year: Nicky Anosike

Nicky Anosike was honored Sunday as the NCAA's 2008 Woman of the Year and the two women who most influenced her – her mother Ngozi Anosike and Coach Pat Summitt – were in Indianapolis to accept the prestigious award on her behalf. In a conference call from Israel, where Anosike is playing professional basketball, she said she realized she "had done a really special thing."

"I didn't know how much this award really entailed until I researched it and just saw the great people that have won it before," said Nicky Anosike, who researched the award online after learning that she had been selected as the winner among 130 nominees.

"That's when it really hit home that I had done a really special thing. It was definitely an emotional thing when I actually realized how big this award is. I realized that this wasn't a small accomplishment, that this was something that was pretty huge."

Pat Summitt's reaction was emotional, too, as she discussed Anosike's impact on Tennessee.

"I'm thrilled for her," Summitt said. "You're talking about someone that has just invested so much in everything she does. She does everything to the very best of her ability, and that's in the classroom, leaving here with three (majors), and being a leader on the court, a leader by example with her academic success and performance."

Anosike was a key part of Tennessee's back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008. She moved into the starting lineup two months into her freshman year, never left and never missed a game in four years in 146 contests.

In addition, she made the honor roll every semester at Tennessee and graduated with a 3.74 GPA with three majors of sociology/criminal justice, political science and legal studies, an achievement that likely carried a lot of weight in the final decision.

"I think the biggest thing is being at a school like Tennessee because that's so demanding athletically and then being able to carry the GPA that I kept is what really probably put me over the top," Anosike said.

Anosike, who made the All-Rookie Team for the Minnesota Lynx last month, is the first basketball player to win the award since Rebecca Lobo was honored at Connecticut in 1995.

"I feel really honored to win this award, especially since I'm only the second basketball player to win it, it's even more special," Anosike said. "It's special that it's an all-around award, not just basketball, not just academics."

On Oct. 1 nine finalists were selected. Anosike was joined by: Susan Ackermann, Salisbury University, lacrosse; Jennifer Artichuk, Delta State, swimming and diving; Shanti Freitas, Smith College, swimming and diving; Arianna Lambie, Stanford cross country, indoor track and field; Samantha Mitchell, Mount Olive College, volleyball, outdoor track and field; Lindsey Ozimek, North Carolina-Charlotte, soccer; Sarah Schettle, Wisconsin-Oshkosh, track and field, cross country, swimming and diving; and Heather Walker, Georgian Court University, volleyball, softball.

Anosike is the third winner of the award from Tennessee. She was preceded by Lauren McCalley, a diver who won in 2005, and Catherine Byrne, a swimmer honored in 1992.

Representatives from NCAA member schools and conferences selected the 130 nominees for the 2008 award. The list was trimmed to 30 on Sept. 15 and then nine on Oct. 1. Those finalists were officially honored Sunday in Indianapolis by the NCAA.

Summitt and Anosike's mother, Ngozi Anosike, accepted the award on behalf of Nicky Anosike, who is in Israel playing for Elizur Ramle.

"In a way I'm upset that I couldn't be there but then in another way I'm happy that the people who are responsible for me getting the award can accept it on my behalf, so it work outs perfectly," said Anosike, who dialed into the press conference at midnight local time in Israel.

An official delegation went from Tennessee, including Summitt; Women's Athletic Director Joan Cronan; Debby Jennings, chief of media relations; Kerry Howland, assistant director of the Thornton Center; and UT President Dr. John Petersen and his wife, Carol Petersen.

Howland oversaw Anosike's academic career at Tennessee and the Thornton Center – a study hall and learning laboratory for athletes – was one of the reasons Anosike said she chose to play for the Lady Vols.

"She was there anytime I needed to ask her a question," Anosike said of Howland. "I had expressed to her that I wanted to be a triple major, and she was there every step of the way to make sure that it could happen and that it would happen. She was responsible for getting me in the right classes so that I could graduate with the three majors, so she had a big part in it."

Lynx Head Coach Don Zierden also offered his congratulations for Anosike's accomplishment.

"I could not be more proud of and happier for Nicky Anosike," Zierden said. "This award speaks volumes about her character, good will and commitment to things she cares deeply for, and I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to coach her this past WNBA season. She is a woman of great integrity, morality and serves as an example for all of us.

"She is such a great person, both on and off the court, and it is great for the NCAA to recognize her for her excellence on the court, in the classroom, and in the community."

Anosike was the sixth of eight children raised by Ngozi Anosike, who came to the United States from Nigeria.

"I am sure Nicky would tell you Ngozi is the one that molded her and the whole family and taught them all the life skills that they need to be successful," Summitt said. "What a great example. Ngozi went back to school in the sixth grade and finished out high school and went on to nursing school. What a role model.

"The older kids helped get the younger kids to and from school and made sure that they were fed and taken care of and helped with their homework. When Nicky told us that story on ‘Family Night' (when Summitt has the team to her house before the season begins), I was so touched to think what a strong woman.

"Ngozi is dear to me because she pretty much told Nicky that she didn't have a choice. She was going to play for Pat Summitt."

Nicky Anosike saw in Summitt the same qualities she saw in her mother.

"Obviously the both of them are extremely similar people," Anosike said. "They both persevere no matter what, and they're both extremely strong women. My mom obviously had a huge impact on my life until I was 18 when Pat took over, and Pat just continued where my mom left off with being tough on me and not settling for less."

Summitt got emotional when talking about what Anosike accomplished and how far she had come from Staten Island, N.Y., where she was a standout at St. Peter's for Girls, to the NCAA Woman of the Year.

"She is very serious about what she does if it's playing basketball or going into the academic arena and wanting to be the best there, too," Summitt said. "I don't think I knew how special she would be when I recruited her. I don't think I had any idea."

"To hear her say that and to hear that she got emotional means a lot," Anosike said.

The award recognized Anosike's performance in the classroom and on the court and her outreach in the community.

"At Tennessee and being a Lady Vol people look up to you," Anosike said. "You are who little girls growing up want to become. You have to get out in the community and help people. At Tennessee we did things like turkey drives to help put food on the table for families who couldn't afford a Thanksgiving dinner … or families who couldn't put presents under the tree at Christmas, just things that I can relate to – or relate to as a child. I felt like I had a responsibility to get out there and help.

"It's important to give back to the community because where I grew up there was not a lot of opportunity … little things became important that most people take for granted. I made sure I tried to help out with those things at Tennessee and in Minnesota."

Anosike completed her career at Tennessee as one of only four Lady Vols to amass more than 600 points (1,099), 500 rebounds (914), 100 blocks (161), 100 steals (213) and 125 assists (246). The other three were Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker.

The day after Tennessee collected its eighth national championship, Anosike was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Lynx. She started all 34 games and averaged 9.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks, earning the nod to the All-Rookie Team.

"That meant so much to me, just the fact that I went 16th in the draft," Anosike said. "And then coming back and being one of the top five rookies meant a lot. I know I have a lot more work to do, but that's only the first step."

Anosike played in her first official game for Elizur Ramla on Sunday and called reporters after the game in Ashdod.

"We had three scrimmage games that we won," said Anosike, who scored 17 and 21 points in the past two games. "Tonight was our first official league game and unfortunately I wasn't able to play (much). I only played the last quarter because I'm really sick right now."

The website for Anosike's team reported that she had a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, which converts to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We're going to improve," she said. "I haven't really gotten to experience an official game yet. I just woke up yesterday and couldn't get out of bed. It's getting better little by little, but I just wasn't up to playing this game today."

The Lynx were in the hunt for a playoff spot until the final week of the season, and Anosike wants to experience in Minnesota what she did at Tennessee.

"I'm going to impose a winning attitude in everything that we do to show that it's possible to win and that the losing is over," Anosike said.

An hour-long broadcast of the 2008 NCAA Woman of the Year Banquet will air on ESPN2 on Dec. 5.

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