Women’s basketball senior finds success at Flagler 5,000 miles from home

By Dustin Fletcher | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Five-thousand miles from home in Nigeria, senior women’s basketball player Tabitha Odabe is pursuing her passion for basketball and helping others.

At 17 years old,  Odabe came to the United States from Nigeria to finish high school, en route to shooting for some lofty goals in her collegiate education and basketball career. Odabe started playing basketball in Nigeria at the age of 17, which is very late to start playing any sport and decided she wanted to come to the United States to get an education. Basketball was her ticket.

Odabe is a captain on the women’s basketball team. She has ambitious goals not only for basketball, but her life after as well. Odabe also had a personal reason for playing the sport.

“When I started playing basketball, I got a lot of compliments about my height that I hadn’t heard a lot before,” said Odabe, who stands at 6 feet, 5 inches tall. “People told me that they wish they could be as tall as me, so it helped a lot with my self confidence as a person as well.”

After coming to the United States, she enrolled in a private Christian high school in Gainesville, FL and was assigned to a host family there. Odabe remembered being very grateful to that family, but not long after, the family decided to move to New York.

After their move, Odabe’s assistant basketball coach from her local AAU team she played on at the time offered to let her stay in their home.

This move would shape her life until this point in every way. She decided after her senior year of high school to play at Santa Fe  College in Gainesville and study sociology and psychology.

The choice to study these two subjects was formed by her interactions with people she met while being around the foster system as well as her family.

“When I was in Gainesville, I had talked to a lot of social workers about their jobs because I love helping people out,” Odabe said. “I think that runs in my family because my brother and sister back home in Nigeria work in the medical field.”

Odabe chose to stay local so she could stay close to her American family because she was so far from her biological family in Nigeria. Odabe recalls some of her friends telling her she could go anywhere she wanted because she had no ties, but she was very close with her family in America. This played a significant role in her decision to stay in Florida.

“I wanted to stay close because I had a real connection to my family here in Gainesville,” she said. “I obviously miss my family back home in Nigeria and talk to my siblings almost every day. I talk to my mom less often though because it makes me really sad to think about how far away she is.”

This path led Odabe to further her passion of helping others and decide to pursue a career in social work after graduation rather than attempting to be a professional basketball player.

Her time at Santa Fe then led her to Flagler College. She and multiple other teammates were playing on the basketball team at Santa Fe at the time and decided to continue to play together at Flagler. Odabe called the school a “natural fit” after her visit here and fell in love with the school.

Her passion for helping others and selflessness also helps her game on the basketball court as well.

“I think that the dynamic we have here on this team is very special,” she said. “I try to be as selfless as I can and help the team by doing what I’m asked by coach and trying to be a team player. The really cool thing about this group of girls is that all of us are this way and just want to be successful.”

She also credited this mentality to her work ethic in the classroom as well.

“There are many times where myself and the team don’t love being in study hall, but we have to make that sacrifice for each other to excel in the classroom so we can be academically eligible to play,” she said.

Odabe has high hopes for the season, for herself, and the team.  

“As for ultimate goals for myself, I would like to lead the nation in shots blocked,” Odabe said. “As a team, I think we all would love to win a national championship, and there is no better time for the team than now to reach this goal.”

Odabe and the Flagler College women have started the season 2-1 and will take on Rollins College on Nov. 15 in Melbourne, FL.

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