HUNTERSVILLE – Ezinne Mbamalu capped her Lake Norman Charter basketball career by becoming the first Knight – male or female – to sign with a Division I college.
She laughed when asked to flash back to her prep beginnings.
“I couldn’t make a layup, I think, if you paid me,” she said. “I didn’t see myself being a star or getting my name in the newspaper. But I liked basketball and I like to work hard.”
Mbamalu’s freshman season was solid, despite her critique – 8.8 points per game, 12.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots. She parlayed the work ethic with experience and at 6-foot-2 became a dominant center.
Mbamalu’s senior-season averages were 16.5 points, 14.6 rebounds, 3.4 blocked shots and 3.1 steals. And the freshman that was 0-for-9 shooting in her high school debut shot 59 percent from the field as a senior. Mbamalu helped Lake Norman Charter go 26-2 and she is The Herald Weekly Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
“I’m really happy with how I progressed, and how our team played,” she said. “I had a nice conclusion to my four years here.”
College recruiters began tracking Mbamalu early on. Her size, agility and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor make an attractive package. Mbamalu signed with Winthrop. She’s the first Lake Norman Charter player headed to NCAA D-I basketball, but said she definitely won’t be the last.
“It’s nice to help put the school on the map,” she said. “But I want to send a trend like that. There are and will be good players here.”
Mbamalu served notice in the season opener, when she had 15 points, 17 rebounds, six steals and five blocked shots in a victory against Mooresville.
“Ezinne had a very productive and successful senior season,” Lake Norman Charter coach Bobby Williams said. “Most any team would love to have the year we put together as a team and any player would love to have her stats from this year. She has anchored the team in the paint for four solid years. Each year her game has continued to improve, and her responsibility along with the value she added to our team increased tremendously.”
Mbamalu said a season highlight was winning a holiday tournament by beating 4A schools Mallard Creek, Mooresville and Hopewell (Charter is 2A).
“That was personal,” she said. “A lot of us know each other from travel teams. And Hopewell had given us our first loss, so it was good to win that one.”
Mbamalu said her willingness to work on her game during freshman struggles and beyond played a key role.
“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I had a lot of support from my teammates, parents, coaches and my brother. I was having fun and as long as I was having fun, I was going to stick with basketball.”
HERALD WEEKLY 2014 GIRLS’ BASKETBALL COACH OF THE YEAR
It’s a good season when the number of losses easily fits on one hand.
Bobby Williams’ Lake Norman Charter squad went 26-2, won the Big South 2A/3A conference and set a school record for victories. He is the Herald Weekly Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.
Lake Norman Charter won two of its first three games, then reeled off 24 straight victories. It was an arduous schedule, too, as the Knights (Class 2A) beat 4A schools Hopewell, Mallard Creek, Mooresville (twice), North Mecklenburg and Hough.
Williams blended talented seniors Alex Busch, Ezinne Mbamalu and Sierra Wiley with talented underclassmen to go 14-0 in conference games. It was four games better than any conference foe. His squad was 11-0 at home and 10-1 on the road. Lake Norman Charter in the past five seasons under Williams has a combined 108-25 record.