Duke basketball player organizes COVID-19 relief for her native Nigeria

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A powerhouse on the basketball court, Duke forward Onome Akinbode-James entered the scene by setting a Blue Devil freshman record with 42 blocks and grew as a leader during her sophomore season.

Now the 20-year-old is taking a stand off the court to help her native Nigeria during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The U.S. is the biggest basketball country," she said. "If you get an opportunity to come play basketball in the U.S., it's like OK, you've got to do something for the grass root, the people coming after you."

Nigeria reported its first case of coronavirus in January and mandated a lockdown March 30.

"The problem with that lockdown was that no one was getting any sort of resources to keep on going," Akinbode-James said. "A lot of people live day-to-day, people have small businesses, people are hairstylists. There are a lot of people who really can't stay home for four days straight and they were asking them to stay home for a month without making any kind of commission for that."

Akinbode-James posted this video on Twitter asking people to spread the word about what was happening in Nigeria and her team took notice.

"She thinks intuitively and also scientifically," said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie. "She's our most mature member of the team. The maturity, the grace, it's a huge example to a lot of student-athletes, including on our team."

It takes about 11 U.S. dollars to feed a family for about a week in Nigeria. Akinbode-James and another teammate, Jen Ezeh, reached out to past, current and former teammates asking for donations. They raised more than $2,000 in less than a month -- enough to feed more than 130 families.

"It's great. It really makes it all worth it," Akinbode-James said. "Going in, I don't think we realized how much logistic work went into it ... seeing the people, the families that are impacted responding and saying 'you don't even know what this does for me.'"

Her coach wants Akinbode-James to be a more vocal leader.

"She has a great focus and concentration, so she's got a super head," McCallie said. "But I told her, you're going to need to speak more, you're going to need to reach out, you're going to have to be more out there in public, explain. Regardless of that happening or not, she's going to be a leader in her country."

Want to help? You can contribute to her GoFundMe for Nigeria relief here.
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