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Spinning with Grace and Dignity
The following article first appeared in issue No. 1 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2012-13 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Nov. 27-Dec. 8. Tolu Omotola is a two-time Big South Women's Basketball Player of the Week already this season. She and the Lady Flames will play three home games in five days, starting Thursday at 7 p.m. versus Bluefield State.
When asked about her favorite move on the basketball court, Tolu Omotola's answer echoed her life beyond the hardwood.
"It would have to be the spin. I don't really know how to explain it, but the spin move in the post," the soft-spoken senior responded almost immediately. She flicked her shoulder forward and turned as she spoke, going through the motions of the play.
It's a natural choice, really. Spinning to throw off a defender in the paint is, like most post moves, a tricky skill that requires strength and balance. It's all about versatility and managing a change in direction - a theme Omotola is no stranger to on or off the court.
The senior forward was born in London to parents Abel and Lola Omotola. The couple later moved their family to the United States in search of warm weather similar to that of their native Nigerian homeland. After a pit stop in still too-chilly New Jersey, the family settled further south in Houston, Texas.
While the temperatures were familiar to her parents, everything was new for the then seven-year-old Omotola, who admits that it took her quite some time to fully adjust. It was the constants in her life - her family and her sport - that ultimately eased the transition.
Omotola's passion for the sport of basketball has persisted through every life change she experienced. She began playing competitively for her middle school in sixth grade, the year her parents say their daughter's love for basketball really took off.
Now in her final season for the Lady Flames, the 6-3 powerhouse is looking to eclipse her impressive 2011 season performance, where she was a significant contributor on both ends of the court. Her physical play led to 9.9 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game during Big South Conference play, as well as the 35th spot on Liberty's career rebounding list in just two seasons. She rose to the occasion in high-stakes games as well, posting her first career double-double against Charleston Southern in the Big South Championship semifinal game.
"Tolu has the ability to step out and is skilled on the perimeter, as she can make jump shots and shoot threes. Conversely, she's probably our best post player inside as far as footwork and moves go," commented assistant coach Alexis Sherard.
In addition, the looming challenges of filling the shoes of recent graduate Avery Warley, the Lady Flames' former starting center and a WNBA-caliber player, and increased responsibility for team leadership don't seem to faze Omatola, either.
"I'm excited about it, just stepping up in every aspect," declared Omotola. "You have to put in the work every single day. You can't ever take a day off. It feels good, and I'm used to change, I embrace it."
Changes, like the cultural and geographical ones she experienced during her childhood, are made easier through the second and most enduring constant in her life. Her father, mother, younger sister and younger brother remain the sources of love and consistency in Omotola's diverse life.
"We are just blessed to be a loving family," her mother emphasized. "I've been with my wonderful, God-fearing and loving husband for 25 years and he has blessed us with wonderful children, Tolu and her siblings. They're raised on the solid rock of Christ."
"We're a very close family, and we try to see each other as much as possible," her daughter smiled. "They give me a strong, strong Christian background. Any issue is addressed with straight prayer, and I'm very thankful for that because it has a lot to do with who I am today."
Even with the considerable distance physically separating Omotola from her Texas home, the Lady Flames' coaching staff recognizes and appreciates the special relationship their premier post player shares with her family.
"I think their influence on her has been established since she was in high school, throughout the family dynamics, and she's just living those values out here," head coach Carey Green remarked. "I'm sure she misses her parents, and she talks to them probably every day, but she Skypes them when she can and is excited that we're going back to Texas for a few games this season, so that they can come up and watch her play."
"Myself and Coach Green were heavily involved in her recruiting process," agreed Sherard. "I sat in her home with her parents, in her living room, and they're obviously a very close-knit family. Her parents are her biggest fans, and similar to us they know she's worked super hard. They expect greatness from Tolu this year. So, they're like an extension of our coaching staff, supporting her."
"She is just in love with basketball," her mother expressed, "but she looks to God in her basketball career and she is a very loving, humble, respectful, caring and good person. We're proud of her."
With that secure foundation of ensured stability firmly beneath her feet, Omotola is prepared for any adjustments that need to be made, whether in life or in basketball. Like the changes she's faced throughout her past, Lady Flames basketball fans can expect to see her taking team transitions in stride, spinning past challenges with grace and strength.
Green summed it up best.
"Every season is a new season, and we have to look forward. Tolu realizes that. She's showing great leadership, stepping up on the floor, and she's handled a lot of changes and adversity in her life, so she's ready for new challenges going into her senior year."
Ryley Rush is a Liberty University freshman and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics.