Through basketball, I can help others

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Chiney Ogwumike plans to go to Nigeria this summer as part of an Access to Success campaign and hopes to raise money to build a basketball court.

I am so happy, humbled, excited and eager to reveal something I have been working on with the help of many other inspired people.

It is something near and dear to my heart, which made for a serious case of writer's block! Whenever I write these blogs, I wait for a moment of inspiration. I don't like writing on a whim. So with a blog so special to me, I didn't know how to start, how to use my words to convey my many emotions. Then it hit me.

It was March 1, our travel day between our games at Washington and Washington State. After flight delays, practices, team video and dinner, we finally had some down time in our rooms. I was stretched out on my bed, finishing an episode of “Pretty Little Liars.’’

My roommate, Mikaela Ruef, was switching between “Kitchen Nightmares’’ and the OKC-Denver NBA game when she came upon an ESPN Classic film, “Elevate,” that followed the journey of four young African men and their hoop dreams.

We laughed when some of their conversations got “lost in translation.” We cheered when the players scored. We were silent when one of the players, Aziz, screamed in pain after getting injured in a game. We were shocked when the coach of South Kent left in the middle of the season.

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Aziz N'Diaye was part of an ESPN Classic film that followed the journey of four young African men and their hoops dreams, and his story inspired Chiney Ogwumike.

Most important, we fell in love with the story of how basketball united people in a way we had never seen before. Basketball was pushing boundaries. It was synonymous with opportunity.

The whole time we were watching Aziz, I was telling Mikaela, "I swear I know him!" When they flashed his name on the screen, my brain made the connection.

I rushed to Google and searched for the University of Washington men's roster. And there it was: Aziz N’Diaye. Earlier in the year, I watched our boys play U-Dub. I remember thinking, “Man, that guy is athletic.” And here I am in my hotel, being enraptured by his story. It's crazy how things come full circle!

Although raised in Houston, I have always had a strong connection with Nigeria. As first-generation Nigerian-Americans, my parents stressed the importance of realizing how blessed we are to be pursing our dreams in the United States. Today I am living out my dreams, playing basketball on scholarship at Stanford, one of the best schools in the world.

Basketball has made that possible for me, and for Aziz and the other guys in the film, too. In one of my previous blogs I wrote that my experience at Stanford has "helped me discover my passion: I am an international relations major, with specializations in Africa and comparative international governance. I hope to use my platform of playing basketball to reach out to people, in the United States, Nigeria, and beyond. I don't know how, or the way, but at least I know a little more than yesterday."

Thanks to some help from friends, I have found the way: Access to Success. A2S is a charitable organization that supports underprivileged African youth through athletic, educational and spiritual programs, helping them develop the skills and traits that will let them reach their goals.

This program has built 60 desks, installed whiteboards and painted the walls at The Logos Academy, a free school. It has hired a part-time director to start an afterschool basketball program and awarded need-based scholarships to keep kids in school and off the street. In a trip to Nigeria, they served nearly 700 people in 10 days: 200 children in the afterschool program, 200 teachers in their free workshop and 250 youths in the annual basketball camp.

I am so excited to announce my A2S campaign, The Dream Team. Our goal is to raise $30,000 to build a basketball court in Nigeria, so we can we can share the opportunities and beauties of sport [teamwork, perseverance, fitness]. Even more important, we can work together to inspire and empower girls to follow their dreams, too.

This summer, I will be going to Nigeria with A2S. I am asking you to “Join the Dream Team” and donate what you can. Everything counts! Together, we can break barriers and leave our legacy on the sport we love.

To many people around the world, it is more than a game. It is a lifeline. It seemed like the coach in the ESPN film “Elevate” spoke directly to me, saying, "Your job is to succeed, so that you can go back and show other kids how to do it." There isn't any greater motivation than that.