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Sports >  Gonzaga women

Gonzaga forward Yvonne Ejim has high aspirations on and off the court

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 20, 2022

On and off the court, Yvonne Ejim is making every minute count.

On most days, long practices with the Gonzaga women’s basketball are followed by even longer sessions at home in front of a textbook.

“Sometimes I get overwhelmed, but I take a step back and look at the other students who are taking 18 credits and also have a job,” Ejim said.

“And I think sometimes that it would be nice to just chill out after a three-hour practice, but I definitely like to put in the work,” Ejim said.

And if that makes her seem a bit “boring,” in Ejim’s words, that’s OK, because she plans to be a doctor one day.

“I think about that a lot,” said Ejim, a sophomore from Calgary, Alberta, who found high school calculus just as easy as blocking out for a rebound.

“I could be something else, but what I always come back to is to give back to people who have helped me so much in life,” Ejim said. “I want to be as impactful as I can, and help people as much as I can – that would feel like a success for me.”

In that context, basketball doesn’t seem all that important. But she found early success on the court, playing with girls two and three years older .

Talented enough to be invited to a Team Canada camp as an eighth-grader, she’s played on the national U17 and U19 squads – though because of the pandemic, hasn’t seen action since the U19 Women’s World Cup in Thailand.

By the time she graduated from high school, she’d been crowned Miss Basketball Alberta following a junior season that saw her average 24.8 points, 15.5 rebounds and better than four steals.

By then, she’d narrowed her college choices to Iowa State – where an older brother once played – and Gonzaga.

“I just loved the academics, the program, and it reminded me of Calgary,” Ejim said of Gonzaga.

She also loved to bring the ball upcourt in high school, but that’s off the table when you’re a 6-foot-1 freshman forward.

Ejim needed time to adapt to the speed and physical nature of the American collegiate game. As a freshman last season, she averaged just 6½ minutes on the court, yet still averaged four points and two rebounds.

“From the beginning of the year, it was just about getting down to the basics,” Ejim said. “Sometimes, it was difficult with getting comfortable in the post, and I had to work on being strong and asserting myself.”

She showed potential that came in spurts – six points and seven rebounds in just 8 minutes at Wyoming, and similar stats against North Alabama.

Then came the West Coast Conference Tournament. The night before the title game against BYU, the stomach flu claimed LeeAnne Wirth and post Anamaria Virjoghe and gave Ejim her first big opportunity.

Holding her own through three quarters, Ejim found another level in the fourth. Of her 13 points, eight came in the final 10 minutes and were the key to Gonzaga’s improbable comeback.

“She definitely stepped up when we needed her,” coach Lisa Fortier said.

With the graduation of Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth, the Zags needed her more this year, and Ejim responded. During the summer, she improved her footwork and her midrange jumper.

Based on minutes played, Ejim is arguably the most productive player on the team. She’s seeing just 20 minutes per game, yet averages 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, tied for team high with Melody Kempton.

She’s also trending upward, scoring in double figures in five of her past six games. Two weeks ago, she scored a career-high 22 points against Portland, the same team GU faces Thursday afternoon in the Kennel.

That begs the question: Why doesn’t she start?

“She’s just brings so much energy,” said Fortier, who three years ago brought Jill Townsend – a sophomore – off the bench for the same reason.

“She’s a starter-caliber player who you can bring off the bench,” Fortier said. “And we don’t talk about our top five players; we talk about our top seven.”

Ejim didn’t say whether she’d prefer to start.

“I feel like the offense that we play in, it gets me in the flow right away,” Ejim said. “I know our offense pretty well – how to help my teammates and put the pressure in rebounding.”

Bottom line: Those minutes are paying off.

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