By MATT ROSENFELD
Mary Nwachukwu (pronounced wah-CHOO-koo) is a graduate student here at Fordham and also a forward for the women’s basketball team. Just last year, though, she was a student athlete at St. John’s University. After her senior year at St. John’s, Mary decided to transfer to Fordham and use her last year of eligibility with the Rams. For student-athletes, transferring is usually a bit easier than it is for regular students, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t rough. Lucky for Nwachukwu, Fordham was just the right fit.
“It was a pretty smooth process,” Nwachukwu said. “I was looking for a better academic school, and Fordham was interested right away. I reciprocated, and it worked out pretty well.”
Coming to Fordham was actually Nwachukwu’s second time transferring. She left Boston College in 2010 to go to St. John’s. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, she made an immediate impact on the Red Storm. Nwachukwu started 21 of 29 games her first year at St. John’s and shot 48 percent from the floor in a year the Red Storm made the NCAA Sweet 16.
Last year at St. John’s, she started 28 of the team’s 29 games and was tied for second on the team in blocks. However, the Red Storm was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But how did she find her way to Fordham? In a way you would never believe.
“[Coach] Angelika Szumilo found her name on a transfer website,” Fordham assistant coach Laura Forbes said. “We heard she wasn’t coming back [to St. John’s], so we followed up on it.”
Once Nwachukwu found her new school of choice, that was not the end. It is one thing to choose a new school, but it is another to assimilate to the new life that goes along with it. In addition to being as new as any freshman, the 22-year-old graduate student is as old as any other player on the team. You can begin to see why transferring might be a bit of a struggle.
Lucky for Nwachukwu, Fordham is not new to this situation.
Just last year, Fordham had Marah Strickland, a graduate student transfer from the University of South Carolina, came to Rose Hill to play her last year of eligibility. The Rams had handled this situation before.
“We bring them in and call them ‘Granny’,” head coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “Marah was terrific, and Mary’s been terrific. Mary’s been a wonderful kid to coach, she’s a very focused academic kid, she gives you experience and she’s no drama.”
As for the players welcoming in another “Grandma,” it is easier than you think.
Senior captain Erin Rooney was a transfer herself, from Monmouth University in New Jersey, so she knows just what it is like to walk in Nwachukwu’s shoes.
“I pick on her a lot,” Rooney said. “I give her some tough love, but I think that’s what makes it easy to transfer, when you’re in a family atmosphere. If I’m too nice to her, that’s not family like, so I give her some tough love and make her feel like part of the team.”
Nwachukwu has been feeling the love.
“It’s strange being one of the oldest players, but not knowing the new plays or where to hang out on campus. My teammates have been really accepting and they’ve really helped me feel comfortable here.”
On the court, Nwachukwu offers something the Rams sorely missed last year: depth down low. Previously sophomore Samantha Clark was the only true big presence Fordham could offer in the paint. But with Mary on board, it has really helped the team, specifically Clark.
“[Nwachukwu] has helped make Sam better every day,” Gaitley said. “It’s somebody to go against Sam every day and we didn’t have the depth at that position last year that [Mary] affords us. She has great defensive skills and is a threat offensively, so she gives us the depth that we lacked last year.”
So far this year, Nwachukwu has appeared in every game for the Rams, providing the presence down low when Clark comes out of the game. She had two blocks in the season opener against San Francisco, and is proving her defensive worth.
Off the court, she is finding Fordham to be a good fit.
“It’s great here,” Nwachukwu said. “I love it. I wish I could have came here with all my eligibility, but everything happens for a reason.”
And when it comes down to which New York City school she likes better, there’s no competition. With a big smile across her face, Nwachkwu exclaimed just what every Ram fan wants to hear.
Maybe transferring doesn’t have to be so hard.