By Laura Amato
St. John’s redshirt senior Sandra Udobi didn’t think she was doing anything impressive. She was simply doing what made sense.
Udobi is one of 278 college athletes across the country nominated for the 2017 Allstate WBCA and NABC Good Works Team, honored for the work she does in her native Nigeria. And no one was more surprised by the honor than Udobi herself.
“It’s great being recognized, but at the same time the whole idea behind all of this, I didn’t realize it was such a big deal,” Udobi said. “When I found out I was really excited and the support I get here is really great.”
Udobi’s determination to help her community stems from her own experiences growing up. She didn’t start playing basketball until she was 14—recruited when a youth coach in Nigeria told her she should come out to the court “because she was tall”—and she wasn’t particularly impressed with the sport at the start.
After she came to the U.S. to play high school ball in New Jersey, it took a little while—and a few long practices—but Udobi discovered that in addition to being tall, she also had the skills to succeed in college basketball. She’s now hoping to help foster her love for the game in the a new generation of players.
“Little girls came up to me and told me that they love this game, but we don’t have anyone to support us or tell us it’s ok,” Udobi said. “And I want to show them it’s not just a men’s game. It’s a women’s game too.”
Udobi isn’t just making sure young girls know they can play—she’s also making sure they have the gear to do it.
St. John’s teamed up with Under Armour in 2013 to outfit all its teams and, since then, Udobi and her teammates have received more gear than they could ever wear. So, she decided to bring some of it home.
“I didn’t think anyone would really want to keep all of this,” Udobi said. “And I started to think back to when I started playing and what the struggle was like to get gear, shirts, shoes and all that stuff that made it easier to play. So I knew people at home would really appreciate it.”
Udobi has always wanted to give back—even before she got to St. John’s—but her college hoops experience has only added fuel to the fire. She knows, better than anyone, what kind of opportunity she’s been presented with, particularly after missing the entire 2013-14 campaign due to a handful of injuries.
“It opens up this whole thing about being thankful every day for what you have,” Udobi said. “It’s something I have a passion for—even if I stop playing, I’m still going to keep doing something with basketball. The opportunities the game has provided me are incredible.”
Udobi is in full-season mode now, determined to walk away from the Red Storm with another Big East championship. Still, she knows, whatever happens on the court this winter, she can still use this game to help others. In fact, she’s already got big plans for the summer.
“The good thing with St. John’s is we’re all about mission here,” Udobi said. “They understand the whole idea behind giving back. It’s going to continue. We’re ready for another camp this summer, even bigger than before.”