TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Seminoles.com) – This year’s FSU Women’s Basketball team doesn’t look like that of years past. On a team that lost its entire starting five from a year ago, one of the few recognizable faces among the group is junior guard Nicki Ekhomu.
Last week, Ekhomu was named team captain alongside fellow juniors Nausia Woolfolk and Kiah Gillespie.
“I’ve been so impressed with how the juniors have really lifted and built up our young players,” Head Coach Sue Semrau said. “I was fearful that we’d have maybe a break, kind of a skip of a beat and that hasn’t happened. They have stepped up and made it their team but have made everybody a part of that team.”
Of the three upperclassmen, Ekhomu is the most experienced when looking at minutes played. She is the Seminoles’ leading returning scorer, while also serving as an extremely effective back court rebounder. Additionally, she sits at fifth among ACC returnees in percentage of free throws made from 2017-2018, accounting for 24.8 percent of FSU’s free throws last year.
As a sophomore, she saw action in 33 games with five starts, averaging 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in nearly 27 minutes played per contest. She led the Seminoles last season by shooting 81.6 percent from the free throw line, the ninth-best single season number in program history. Ekhomu finished the year shooting 44 percent from the floor, while adding two double-doubles on the season against Florida and North Florida.
In her first year, Ekhomu played in 32 games behind the eventual two winningest classes in FSU Women’s Basketball history. As a freshman, she averaged 3.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 13.2 minutes per game. She came to Florida State as the fourth-rated guard and the No. 21 overall ranked recruit according to the ESPNW 2016 recruiting rankings.
Growing up just outside Chicago, Ekhomu was able to develop her game in an environment known for the basketball talent it produces.
“It was fun because we were always known as the kids that played basketball,” Ekhomu said. “That’s what our block was known for and my grandad and my uncle always pushed me to be the best.”
In the same way her role significantly increased from her freshman to sophomore year, this season offers Ekhomu an opportunity to further grow not only as a basketball player, but as a leader as well.
With six returnees and five true freshmen, this year’s group greatly differs from those of Ekhomu’s first two seasons as a Seminole, which rostered a total of nine upperclassmen between the two seasons. Of the six returnees, only two have accumulated significant minutes in ACC play, those two being Ekhomu and Woolfolk.
As a result, Ekhomu has found herself in a position much different from years past, in that she will be depended on for both her abilities on the court and as a leader. With that, she is taking the values she learned from those before her in the importance of playing hard and exhibiting what it takes to win.
“I just want to be a leader for the young ones and also for the ones that aren’t as young and maybe haven’t played as much here,” Ekhomu said. “I just want to be a role model and a leader for them.”
To start off the season, she has been just that. Head Coach Sue Semrau has seen the leadership potential from her three juniors early on in the preseason and in the team’s first few practices. With the effective presence that not only Ekhomu brings, but Woolfolk and Gillespie as well, the team is in a good position to meet their own high expectations.
“It has been remarkable to watch them step up and to really take control of a situation that they’re not comfortable with,” Semrau said.
“It’s a lot of new roles that we’re stepping into. Still adjusting, but I think they’ve started to really embrace it and realize that this is an opportunity that they’ve been waiting for and that they’re ready to grasp.”
While Ekhomu is not the flashiest amongst this year’s group, she is certainly one of the most talented. Her abilities coupled with her level of experience will no doubt be depended on by the Seminoles this season. Just as they will depend on her to be critical in big moments, she will depend on them to do just the same to maintain the elite level of play that is inherent to this program.
“She’s a quiet leader. She’s somebody that leads by example,” Semrau said.
If the successes of her first two seasons are any indication of how Ekhomu will perform this year, it can only be expected that her presence on the court will increase. With that, she will most certainly solidify herself as the example for this year’s team, further exemplifying herself as the leader and captain that she is for this young group.