Born and bred in Tokyo, Japan, with its premium on space and miniaturised everything, Monica Okoye stands out back home.
At 183 cm, the first Japanese national to play in the Women’s National Basketball League is used to towering over most people in her motherland – not so much in her home away from home in Australia’s national capital.
“Japan has no foreign players, so my height is big there, but in Australia I am very small,” she laughs.
But big things are expected from this relatively small package, and she’s ready to deliver.
Okoye came to Australia in October this year for her current gig playing with the UC Capitals. She’s played in Australia only once before, at Geelong United in NBL1 South but is a national team member for Japan and played all over the world, including Greece.
Sporting prowess runs in the family. Okoye’s brother Louis is also a professional athlete, playing baseball for the Yomiuri Giants; her mother is a basketball player.
“She encouraged me to start playing,” she says. “My mum is still my number one supporter. I would not be playing basketball if she had not recommended it.”
Okoye started playing when she was 12 and took to the game immediately. From there, hard work and perseverance led to a career in the sport.
She says the pinnacle was winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
“Being able to represent and play for my country in Japan is something I will never forget,” she says.
Basketball has given Okoye the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and experience different cultures, all while doing what she loves. She says Australia is definitely among her favourites.
“I love Australia so far, the people are friendly and welcoming, and the nature is beautiful,” she says.
“My teammates support me well and have shown me around Canberra. It’s also great to see new parts of the country when we travel for away games.
“Playing basketball this way is my life’s dream. I practised hard for it for five years. Now I know how wonderful it is to make dreams come true.”
Having wowed at the NBL1 in Victoria, Okoye received her offer from UC Capitals head coach Kristen Veal and is now a firm part of the UC Caps fold.
She says she’s now ready to bring her A game to her new tenure.
“I just want to do what it takes and help where I can to have success with the UC Capitals,” she says.
“This team is the closest team I have ever had in my basketball life. They are like a family. They will give me memories that will last a lifetime. So I will fight for this team.”
See Okoye and the UC Capitals in action on Friday 8 December when they go up against the Sydney Flames, or on Sunday 10 December versus Townsville Fire. For all the latest UC Caps news or to purchase tickets, visit Women’s National Basketball League.