Athlete soars on court and in the classroom
By John Wykoff
Portland State University forward Stephanie Egwautu has had her eye on the prize since she was in the fourth grade—the same year she brought home a C in English on a progress report.
“My mom really ripped me apart,” she recalled. “You know, I just wanted to have fun, but she told me that education was the most important thing in my life. After that, I never got anything but As.”
The 5-foot-9 college senior said, “That’s when I got my stuff together.”
Hitting the books was a major factor in her slow start on the basketball court this year, when both she and her coaches say she was just beginning to play up to her potential, earning her first career start against Northern Arizona on Feb. 5.
Egwautu has wanted to be a physician for as long as she can remember, and by fall term she was carrying 14 hours of pre-med courses, including the demanding organic chemistry.
“I missed practice every Tuesday and Thursday because of labs, and my teammates said the only time they saw me was in the locker room,” she said.
And, in the short run, that’s too bad because both she and Viking Associate Head Coach Peg Swadener, whom she credited with helping prepare her emotionally for the rigorous fall schedule, agree that she had just begun to come into her own toward the end of last season, which led to her earning the team’s Most Improved Player award.
“Last year, it felt like it was my coming out year,” said Egwuatu, who has a 3.208 GPA at Portland State.
Swadener described her as a “true five, a post player, back to the basket, a physical post. She’s always been our best physical post player. She really understands the game and the position. She can score with her back to the basket.”
Following in the footsteps of her older sister Patricia, who is a 23-year-old pre-med student at the University of Washington, Egwautu started playing sports in kindergarten at the encouragement of her parents Fred and Florence Egwautu, first generation immigrants (Florence from Uganda and Fred from Nigeria) who met while students at Western Washington University.
Her dad is a tennis player and played soccer growing up in Nigeria, and all three of Egwautu’s siblings play or played sports. Patricia was a Division I bound basketball player before tearing an ACL in high school, while brothers Emka, 17, and Chike, 12, both play basketball. Chike also plays football.
She chose PSU as a junior at Riverside High School in Auburn, Wash., after a family visit to Portland.
“I liked the city and the feeling and atmosphere at PSU,” she said. Also, she’s from a close family and her parents have been able to come to weekend games.
In her spare time, she volunteers in the pediatric oncology clinic at Oregon Health Sciences University. Named to the Big Sky Conference Winter All-Academic Team last year, Egwautu would like to be a pediatrician specializing in oncology or neurology.
A trip to Nigeria has inspired her to dream of opening a clinic for poor children there.
“I love kids, and it was an experience going back to Africa where a lot of kids don’t have health care. I’d like to give back, maybe open a clinic in Nigeria. You see a lot of kids with sickle cell anemia, who don’t have the care we have here,” she said.
When Egwautu has time, she likes to read, and especially loves Harry Potter books or “anything that’s on the New York Times best seller list.”
Since she’s had her eye on the prize since she was nine, it probably was a no brainer to rank her academic path as her first priority.