Senior forward Ki-Ke Rafiu has faced a tumultuous career for the Georgetown women’s basketball team.
In her freshman season, she played in 26 of 31 games, scoring 36 points and grabbing 39 rebounds. The Hoyas, led by current WNBA player Sugar Rodgers (COL ’13), won 15 games against a loaded schedule in the old Big East.
However, prior to Rafiu’s sophomore season, then-Head Coach Keith Brown resigned amid allegations of verbal abuse. Jim Lewis took over as interim head coach and the Hoyas’ win total decreased to 11. Rafiu dealt with injuries to her knee and leg and only played in nine of her team’s 32 games, averaging only three minutes per game in those contests.
Last season, Rafiu and her classmates played for Natasha Adair, their third head coach in three seasons. The team struggled to a 4-27 record, and Rafiu decided to retire from playing due to a series of nagging injuries.
Despite her injuries, Rafiu has spent the past three summers combining sports and philanthropy in her home country of Nigeria. This past summer, Rafiu helped create “Girls Rise Up,” an organization for young girls. The program, which provides shoes and a copy of a motivational book called “The Energy of Us” to each of its participants, encourages the nearly 100 girls involved in the program to play sports.
Rafiu said she hopes to help the girls find an appropriate balance between athletics and education.
“It feels good. It makes me happy, because my philosophy is that I want to count my wealth according to the smiles I put on people’s faces,” Rafiu said. “Seeing just a smile and how happy those kids are just makes me feel like the richest person in the world.”
Rafiu has also spent the past few years collecting shoes, clothing and equipment for girls in Nigeria who enjoy athletics despite their lack of proper equipment. Her generosity and selflessness has impressed her teammates and coaches, particularly Adair, who refers to her as “the mother hen of the group.”
“Her heart is so big, and you can see it in how she gives back and how she wants to help people in her area and her native country,” Adair said. “And just people locally, that are less fortunate. She’s a giver. And so whether it’s collecting shoes, whether it’s running camps, she’s always there to help, and I really see the impact of that with our team and just how she’s put her arm around the whole group.”
Rafiu has also made an impact on her teammates, several of whom have helped her with her international projects.
“[My teammates are] really getting involved,” Rafiu said. “Next year we’re trying to do Nigeria and Haiti, so we’ve started that already so we can get ahead of the game. We’re really into it now, and my teammates are really helping me with the whole process, even if it’s advice or giving me ideas or how to go about stuff. My teammates are really right there with me.”
Rafiu also maintains a leadership role on the team during the season. She serves as an unofficial player-coach, frequently offering both strategic suggestions and support for her teammates and coaches.
“It’s not uncommon for her to text me and just say, ‘Hey, Coach, I’m checking on you. How are you doing, are you having a good day?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, wow! Ki-Ke!’ But that’s who she is, and you need that in that locker room,” Adair said.
Rafiu and her fellow seniors have faced a difficult four years on the Hilltop. Still, Rafiu, fellow senior forwards Dominique Vitalis and Logan Battle and senior guard Katie McCormick have elected to stick together, even though the program has struggled and several marquee players have transferred out.
“I played with Logan before. We’d been playing since I was probably 12 or 13, so we just decided we were staying. Dom and Ki-Ke, we were all close,” McCormick said.
The senior class hopes to be rewarded for its patience in its final season, and Rafiu is optimistic about the team’s chances to improve on its record from last year.
“I just think we need to bring it together,” Rafiu said. “We couldn’t pull it together last year, but I feel like now we’re getting there. [If we] put everything together — listen more, just do the little stuff, just pay attention more, and I think we’ll get it. I think that’s what we struggled with last year, and this year is way better.”
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