Alumna focusing on Olympics, medicine after pro basketball career

Sarah OgokeSarah Ogoke ’16, a Kennesaw State University alumna, was an exceptional collegiate basketball player who has continued her playing career as a professional and in international competitions.

Because of her basketball success, both at Southern Polytechnic State University and then around the world, Ogoke was recently inducted into the KSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It was amazing. It was a dream come true,” Ogoke said of being a part of this year’s hall-of-fame class. “Sometimes we get caught up in going, going, going, knock one accomplishment off your list then you’re looking at the next one – World Cup, Olympics, qualifications, gold medals, medical school. With KSU bringing me back to acknowledge me, I was able to take a step out of the go, go, go, go mentality and have the opportunity to reflect on the past, and it was really refreshing. I appreciated it a lot.”

Ogoke got the call to be a member of the hall of fame last year, but she was busy competing with the Nigerian National Team, D’Tigress, at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup tournament, which was held in Spain from Sept. 22-30, 2018. Ogoke has played on the D’Tigress squad since 2011, before her two seasons at Southern Polytechnic in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

“Yeah, we played in the World Cup last year and ended up playing against Team USA, which was also a huge dream of mine,” Ogoke said.

Scott Whitlock, a Kennesaw State senior associate athletics director, made the call to Ogoke, and she was certainly surprised.

“I was excited, I was shocked, I was elated,” Ogoke said. “It was a flurry of emotions to know that I’ll be getting recognized for my hard work and I get a chance to come back to my alma mater.”

Ogoke earned her Bachelor of Science in biology from KSU. She walked on the Marietta campus in 2014 and finished her degree requirements later while starting her professional basketball career.

“I went and continued my career playing professionally overseas,” Ogoke said. “I played in Spain, I played in Angola, I played in Portugal, I played in various African championships in Tunisia, Mozambique, Mali, Senegal. It was awesome. I got a chance to travel across Europe and Africa playing the game that I love.”

Now, Ogoke’s basketball focus in solely with the Nigerian National Team, which in August claimed its second straight African title, a first step toward qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

“In 2011, I was the only collegiate player to make the team because everybody else were pros, so that gave me a whole lot of confidence,” Ogoke said. “From then, I continued to get better individually and the program continued to get better until we became a World Cup-caliber team that is preparing to go to the Olympics and compete for medals on a world-class stage.”

Although Ogoke has been with D’Tigress for more than eight years, her spot on the roster is not guaranteed. Every year, she has to prove herself.

“I think that’s been able to keep me humble,” Ogoke said. “It’s helped me continue to get better and I’ve never had a chance to get complacent.”

Ogoke has reached many of her basketball goals throughout her playing career, but participating in the Olympics would certainly be another highlight.

“There are still two more qualification competitions we have to play to finalize our spot in the Olympics,” Ogoke said. “Basically, the top six teams from the competition that we just played are going to play again. Essentially, it’s the same teams we just beat. It’s looking pretty good for us but we do have to go through the steps.

“Being an Olympian is something I never even imagined, to be very honest. To have that opportunity, to have that simply on your resume is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It would be a privilege and an honor.”

As her professional playing career was wrapping up and after the 2018 World Cup tournament in Spain, Ogoke decided to enter medical school at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, where she is currently in her first semester.

“This year I started medical school, which has been a longstanding dream of mine even before I knew anything about basketball,” Ogoke said. “From the beginning, I always knew I was going to be a physician. My father is an anesthesiologist, board certified in pain management, and he inspired me to pursue medicine and podiatry specifically.”

Ogoke’s parents were born in Nigeria and both work in the medical field.

Since her departure from Southern Poly, Ogoke had a plan in place for her future.

“I knew I was probably going to play professionally for about four or five years and then move to medicine,” Ogoke said. “Around my second year as a professional, I started studying and preparing for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). I gave myself a year to do that, took the MCAT in 2017, played in the World Cup the next year, applied to medical school after that and got my acceptance earlier this year.”

After she graduates from med school, Ogoke would like to one day open her own practice and work with athletes like herself.

“Another reason I chose podiatry was because I was injured with tendonitis in my left foot and I was able to go to a podiatrist who helped me out a lot, inspired me and kind of pushed me toward that,” Ogoke said. “I would really love to be able to work with athletes because I feel like, based on my experience, I’ll be able to help them physically and also with the mental aspects of recovery and overcoming.”

With the majority of her extensive basketball playing career over, Ogoke has experienced several highlights in the game. One of those mentioned by Ogoke was when SPSU defeated highly ranked conference rival Lee University, snapping its 14-game winning streak, in January 2013.

“Beating Lee University was one of the highlights because they had a great coach and some tough girls,” Ogoke said. “My very first championship in 2017, with Nigeria, was absolutely amazing because we overcame a lot to get that done. We were playing in a stadium with like 20,000 roaring Malian fans who bring their vuvuzelas and their drums. And then definitely meeting the president of Nigeria and playing against Team USA.”

Ogoke was born in New York but grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, a southwest suburb of Houston. She started out playing soccer but later fell in love with basketball, a sport in which she excelled.

Coming out of Dulles High School, Ogoke was recruited to play basketball by several NCAA Division I schools and ended up beginning her collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh, a member of the Big East Conference at the time. Ironically, the head coach at Pittsburgh then was Agnus Berenato, who is now at the helm of the Kennesaw State program.

“I went, got a chance to meet Coach B (Berenato), saw the campus and I fell in love with it,” Ogoke said of her first visit to Pitt.

Under Berenato, Ogoke played in 51 games over two seasons for the Panthers. As a freshman in 2008-09, they went 25-8 overall and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“I spoke to Coach B the day that I landed (Friday, Sept. 27) and she knew I was on my way here,” Ogoke said. “Coach B gave me a gift and wrote me a really nice note. She said they were coming up toward New York and she asked me to be the honorary guest coach, so in February I’m going to go up to NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) and do that, and I’m excited.”  

Because of academic reasons, Ogoke left Pittsburgh and eventually wound up at SPSU.

“In my experience at Southern Poly, what I’ll never forget is the people,” Ogoke said. “My teammates, the other athletes in the program, the professors, the coaches – I generally felt like I was at home when I was at Poly. I learned a lot about friendship, I learned a lot about synergy, community, and it was just a really nice place for me.”

The consolidation of KSU and SPSU was announced just as Ogoke was starting her final collegiate basketball season for the Hornets. She now feels that the merger was probably a good thing.

“Initially when it happened, I was confused and a lot of people were upset, and probably for good reason,” Ogoke said. “But in the grand scheme of things, it looks like it’s turning out to be really good. At the end of the day, what I’ve learned is that sometimes it’s better to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

Ogoke has accomplished a lot in her life, and will most likely do many more great things when she becomes a doctor in the next few years.