Aug. 5, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Coaches always burst with pride when they see former student-athletes give back to their sport and community, and most, like Kevin Morris, are eager to help them do so.

Mobolaji Akiode, who played for Morris at Fordham University, is making her collegiate coach proud by creating “Hope 4 Girls” – a non-profit organization that uses sports to help young women in Nigeria realize their highest potential in all aspects of life. 

Akiode spent her childhood in Nigeria before moving to the United States and attending Columbia High School in New Jersey, and then earning a Division I scholarship at Fordham.  She graduated with an accounting degree in 2004, and then became a member of the Nigerian National Team (2004-2007), which included a trip to the 2004 Olympics and the program’s first-ever victory at the Games.

During her time with native country’s team, Akiode began thinking about how sports had created so many opportunities for her, and wanted other young African women to have the same experience and started organizing a non-profit basketball camp. 

“She wanted to give back to Nigeria, and came up with the idea a couple years ago that she was going to start a non-profit basketball camp,” said Morris.  “She mentioned it to me and asked me to coach if she ever got it going. I said, ‘of course.’” 

Morris applauds Akiode for her work on the camp, and the now head coach at Rutgers-Newark is excited to be participating as one of the clinic’s coaches.

“She really worked on it over the last couple years in getting coaches and donors, and getting a site,” said Akiode.  “She lives in the United States, so the logistics are tough.  She wanted to bring in 60 girls from all over Nigeria to one site.  I think there will be players from most if not all of the states in Nigeria.  She contacted me in May and said the camp is on – she did all of the work.”

Akiode coordinated all of the travel and visa applications, and Morris also received advice from a pair of Nigerian sisters that he has had on the team the last two years, such as using plenty of mosquito repellent.

The camp is being held in the Ogun State of Nigeria, and runs from Aug. 3-7, and then the coaches from the U.S. will enjoy a few days of sightseeing.  The trip is Morris’ first to Africa.

“I’ve been fortunate enough at other schools to have been on European trips with the teams, and you get an appreciation for different styles of basketball,” said Morris.  “You see a different way of doing a drill or a different out-of-bounds play but my feeling is that this will be about the young girls who have probably not been exposed to basketball at this level. 

“I think this is why Mobolaji wanted to start this camp – to give them a greater opportunity.  I know she feels she was really blessed to have a Division I scholarship and play in the Olympics.  She thinks there are more girls out there that can play, and if given the opportunity can show what they can do.”

The experience will be interesting as 60 young girls are brought together from all over the African nation for one purpose.

“If not for this camp, would not be going to camp at all,” said Morris.  “They are going to be appreciative and hard-working.  Mobolaji was an outstanding hard-worker herself – whatever she demands of these campers is something she has lived herself as a player.”  

Akiode is currently an accountant at ESPN headquarters, but is also pursuing a Master’s Degree in sports management.  Morris enters his ninth season as head coach of the Scarlet Raiders in 2009-2010.