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A Calgary basketball player is taking March Madness by storm. Her former coach says the WNBA is in sight | CBC News

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When Eddie Richardson met Yvonne Ejim, she was a 14-year-old athlete who he says was always willing to put in the extra work to improve herself as a basketball player.

That was around six years ago, when Ejim first made her way to the Genesis basketball program at the Edge School in Calgary.

Now, the 21-year-old has emerged as a major star in the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, as a forward with the number four ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in Spokane, Wash. 

LISTEN | Yvonne Ejim’s former coach talks about her as a person and a player

Calgary Eyeopener6:41March Madness

A basketball player from Calgary is set to star in March Madness. We talk to her former coach.

When Ejim said she’d do something, she’d follow through with it, Richardson, the director of basketball at Edge School, said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.

“She’d always be in the gym early before practice started,” he said.

“We knew she was a star as a young woman, but she continues to show that she can’t be stopped.”

Richardson said Ejim’s work ethic is what’s taken her to a stage that many don’t get to. The six-foot-one senior has been dominant through Gonzaga’s first two games in the tournament.

On Saturday night, she put up a double-double — two major statistic categories in double digits — scoring 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to push her team past the 13 seed UC Irvine Anteaters, and into the second round. 

She repeated that feat again on Monday night in a win against the five-seed Utah Utes, knocking down 17 points and 13 rebounds to help send the Bulldogs into the March Madness Sweet 16.

Ejim is the highest-scoring Canadian NCAA women’s player for the second straight year, averaging 19.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this regular season.

On top of that, she was a 2023 player of the year finalist, and a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award, an honour that recognizes the top power forward in the country.

Those close to her, however, say it’s who Ejim is off the court that sets her apart.

On Saturday night, Yvonne Ejim scored 25 points, pushing her team past the 13 seed UC Irvine Anteaters and into the second round of the March Madness tournament. (Young Kwak/The Associated Press)

On Canada’s east coast in Antigonish, Nova Scotia — around 5,000 kilometres away from Spokane — Deon Ejim has been gathering around the TV with friends to cheer his younger sister on.

Deon, a basketball player who plays for Calgary’s CEBL team the Surge, says his younger sister learned things during her upbringing that reflect in her game.

Growing up, Yvonne was the oldest female sibling in her household. 

“That has turned her to being a person that you can depend on, on and off the court,” Deon said.

“And I think it shows in her leadership when I watch her play.” 

Regardless of how her team fares in this year’s March Madness tournament, Ejim will be back for another year of college basketball next season. And getting to the next level of the sport is already within reach.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the WNBA, there’s been a lot of scouts and teams reaching out,” Richardson said. “In my eyes, she can do anything she wants to do and she’s proven that coming out of Calgary.”

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