Women's Basketball Feature: Sarah Imovbioh
A first glance, someone named `@giggles_42′ seems like an unlikely candidate to lead the ACC in anything other than mirth and merriment, but it is very easy to picture the woman behind the social media moniker, Sarah Imovbioh, as the league’s leader in rebounding. The center has not only paced the conference in rebounding the entire season, she has also led the nation in offensive rebounds for most of the year.
Within moments of engaging with the 6-foot-2 Nigerian national off the court, one immediately sees why she chose that Twitter handle.
“Lexie Gerson [`14] gave me that name my first year,” Imovbioh explained. “She just kept calling me Giggles because I love to laugh. I will laugh and laugh and laugh. Even when things aren’t funny, I still just laugh. If I walk into the gym and I am not smiling, that is a problem.”
Not only does her infectious laugh enliven most conversations, her broad, shining smile is also the norm, and it really doesn’t get much larger or more beaming than when she talks about walking the lawn in May. This semester, Imovbioh is taking the final two classes she needs to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She is planning on applying to the Curry School of Education for her postgraduate work next year.
“I am excited to be walking the lawn in May, but I am nervous, too,” Imovbioh said, with a large smile and a laugh. “I feel like it came by so fast. I can remember three years ago when I was a freshman, and now I am a senior and next year I’ll be a grad student. It goes by so fast, but you realize it when you are playing basketball.”
Perhaps the only people more excited about the impending milestone are her parents, Peter and Esther Imovbioh.
“My parents are very excited about me graduating, because they know I put in so much work, and to be the first one in our family to graduate from college, it is really a blessing,” Imovbioh said. “When I talk to my dad on the phone, he is always asking me `when are you graduating? When are you graduating?'”
Sadly, her parents will not be on hand to watch the ceremony in person, but Imovioh has plans in place to video tape the ceremony to be able to share with her family when she goes home to Nigeria this summer to renew her student visa. It will not be the first video show-and-tell that she has done to share her American experiences with the family back home. Last summer, when Imovbioh returned to Abuja to visit her family, she came laden down with DVD’s of Virginia women’s basketball games because her parents had never seen her play basketball. Ever.
“My parents, especially my mom, know that I play `sports’, but she doesn’t know what sport I play,” Imovbioh said. “She does know it is called `basketball’, but she doesn’t know what that is. She was really excited to see me play. She said `Wow! That’s you?’. And I said, `yes, that’s the sport of basketball’, so now she knows what basketball is. She was really excited. She told me to keep my head up. Keep pushing. Keep being aggressive. Just keep doing what I have been doing that got me this far. My sister and brothers knows that I am doing well, because they have Facebook and read about what the team is doing and how I do in the games. They see pictures and people will message them or tell them when I have a good game.”
Her father also enjoyed seeing his youngest child put up 27 points in the 2014 ACC Tournament second-round game against Georgia Tech.
“My dad loved it,” Imovbioh said. “He was like `The gym is big and the crowd! You have a lot of fans. And I always hear your name, Sarah IM-OOOOOO-BEEE-YOOO!’
“I had to do A LOT of explaining as we watched the game. The one thing my mom noticed and asked was that `down low, when you get the ball, you score really well, but when you get to that line [to shoot free throws], and there is nobody around, you don’t score. Why?’ I guess she was right. My free throws were bad last year.”
Despite being some 5,500 miles away from home, Imovbioh still remains quite close to her family, trying to call home at least three times a week and, when the six-hour time difference permits, before she plays games.
“We talk about the normal things like how is school, my team and my knee, since she saw me in the knee brace in the game DVD’s,” Imovbioh said. “Really, I love to speak to my mom before every game, because she prays for me, and she really likes to pray for me. When I get a chance to call her before a game, I do, to get her praise. She can spend an hour on the phone saying prayers. I feel that is a big thing with African parents, they always like to pray for their kids, which is really good. I enjoy that part of her.”
When she doesn’t get to call home before a game, she turns to the familiar sounds of home to motivate her as her pregame pump-up music is Gospel songs performed by the Women of Faith.
“My mom had the CD and I just love the way they sing,” Imovbioh said. “They play them in church back home, too, and we sing with them and would also come on the TV back home. So I kept following them when I came here. Listening to them reminds me of home.”
Though she does still have a year of school left, Imovbioh is already focused in on a career trajectory, an occupation with which she has had a lot of first-hand experience during her seven years in America.
“I want to work in the Nigerian Embassy, especially the one in DC because I have had multiple trips to the one in DC with [women’s basketball’s assistant director of operations] Hadley [Zeavin],” Imovbioh said. “I like the way the people there interact with other people who are trying to get their passports together or trying to get Visas. I really want to help people who need assistance. I feel that I have had so many experiences with documentation. I felt sociology could put me in that position, which is why I decided to major in it.”
She also has used her time at the Embassy to research what she needs to do to make those career goals a reality.
“After the people at the Embassy helped me with my passport, I emailed one of the men we worked with there a couple of times and he said that doing an internship there would give me some good exposure, so it is something that I might do this summer or next year,” Imovbioh said.
Of course, she said this with a smile, and a giggle.