Amy Okonkwo is ready to lead TCU into a new era

TCU's Amy Okonkwo (00) celebrates a three-pointer against Baylor on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
TCU's Amy Okonkwo (00) celebrates a three-pointer against Baylor on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images) /

Amy Okonkwo is a key part of TCU’s resurgence.

DALLAS — The mood at the 2018-19 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tipoff Tuesday was certainly more jovial than usual—thanks in large part to the students of St. Philips School & Community Center, where the event was held, in partnership with the conference.

TCU’s senior point forward Amy Okonkwo could be seen entertaining curious students and reading to classes throughout the day. Her signature dimpled smile flashes a lot more these days given TCU’s recent success. Many in Fort Worth know it’s in huge part to Okonkwo.

TCU has suffered through a decade-long drought of mediocre seasons, with topping .500 the high points. However, when head coach Raegan Pebley signed her first class, it included the Southern California transfer; the investment paid off.

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Last season the Horned Frogs won 23 games for the first time since 2007-08, made the deepest postseason run in program history, had a program-best seven-game Big 12 winning streak and spent three weeks in the top 25. Okonkwo led TCU with 14.4 points per game last season. Her 519 points were the sixth-most in a single season in school history.

The Horned Frogs are ranked fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll, their highest since joining the conference. Okonkwo is the second TCU player to ever be named to the preseason All-Big 12 Team, and the team is returning all five starters.

“Being able to come back with so many returners, it gives our six new players an opportunity to learn from us,” Okonkwo told High Post Hoops. “We have to perform, we have a higher expectation for ourselves.”

TCU is now drawing from last season’s momentum that saw upset wins over then-No. 7 Texas and No. 15 West Virginia, topped off with a four-game win streak at the WNIT.

“We grew in our confidence and got a taste of that post-season success, but we did not get complacent,” said Pebley. “Every team is getting better in the offseason.”

Okonkwo’s humble demeanor off the court contrasts with her on-court persona that helped her notch the 2017-18 Big 12 Sixth Woman Award (2nd TCU player in history). The 2017-18 All-Big 12 Second Teamer shot a league-best 90.2 percent from the free throw line.

While most college students picked up part-time jobs this summer, Okonkwo was rubbing elbows with WNBA stars Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

“Best summer ever! I had an internship with the Dallas Wings, I was the assistant of basketball operations,” Okonkwo said. “It gave me a lot of insight on how important it is to hold yourself accountable and how to be thankful for the support staff I have at TCU.”

She was able to learn from the Wings on and off the court. Pebley, who was a color analyst for the Wings, saw Okonkwo grow from the experience as well.

“She understood the importance of being a great teammate, taking care of your body, attention to detail, what a rookie needs to do and looks like,” said Pebley. “We (TCU) are already seeing the benefits of that.”

Okonkwo will mix business with pleasure this November, returning home to California for the San Diego State Thanksgiving Classic.

“It’s a homecoming game, my whole family gets to come see me play,” she said. The tournament will prove to be an early test for TCU as they take on a sizable BYU squad and San Diego State on its home court.

After the wins over Texas and West Virginia, Okonkwo reflected on the upsets. “People call it upsets, but we prepared for those wins…We showed what we’re capable of. I don’t think we’re even at our best yet, so that’s just a little glimpse.”

As Okonkwo prepares to lead TCU again, she’ll give us more than enough to watch this season.