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Valencia's Sandra Ikeora's happy days

Prep hoops: Valencia’s Sandra Ikeora is joy off the court, business on it

Posted: February 19, 2014 10:37 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2014 10:37 p.m.
Valencia High senior power forward Sandra Ikeora helped lead the Vikings to their second consecutive co-Foothill League title in 2014. Valencia High senior power forward Sandra Ikeora helped lead the Vikings to their second consecutive co-Foothill League title in 2014.
Valencia High senior power forward Sandra Ikeora helped lead the Vikings to their second consecutive co-Foothill League title in 2014.

Here’s a dare.

Find someone with a bigger smile in the Santa Clarita Valley than Sandra Ikeora.

And another dare.

Find someone who makes you smile in the Santa Clarita Valley more than Sandra Ikeora.

Here’s an exchange with her from Monday night:

Us: “We’re going to take a picture of you tomorrow.”
Her: “Tomorrow? But I’ve got to get my hair done.
Us: “Who’s your favorite athlete?”
Her: “Myself. No. Just kidding. LeBron James.”
Us: “Do you have a hidden talent?”
Her: “I’m a good singer. Just kidding. I’m a terrible singer. I guess my hidden talent is reverse psychology.”
Us: “Why did you move out here from Nigeria?”
Her: “Let me find out. MOM!!!”

“It’s funny. Sometimes I’ll be walking around and see the girls, and Sandy cracks me up. She’s the center of attention,” says Valencia girls basketball head coach Jerry Mike.

Here’s the next dare.

Find someone who is angrier, more competitive and wants to beat you more on a basketball court than Ikeora.

There are two things she doesn’t like — referees and floppers.

And after the last game of the Foothill League season, when Valencia won and across town Canyon won to share the Foothill League championship, it didn’t sit well with the Nigerian-born power forward.

One of the leading candidates for Foothill League Player of the Year said the teams should meet again. Maybe even in a ring.

What kind of ring?

“The boxing ring or something,” Ikeora laughed.

Ikeora hates losing as much as she loves to smile.

“I have a very competitive spirit,” she says. “I don’t like knowing someone is doing better than me. I want to hustle and win and give my team a win.”

The 17-year-old says she gets her competitive spirit and loquaciousness from her father, but has no real backstory for it.

“No I don’t like talking. My husband does,” says Sandra’s mother, Ify.

Ikeora didn’t even play basketball until her freshman year in high school.

She was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the United States when she was 10 years old.

In Nigeria, she was an active, curious and fearless little girl who ran for fun and rode a motorcycle for adventure.

Basketball was an adventure early on.

“She couldn’t dribble at all,” Mike says.

But man could she rebound.

Ikeora remembers being so tenacious on the boards her freshman year that Mike told another coach she had to be on the varsity.

Ready or not, she moved up and in the last three seasons she has shown steady improvement.

Ikeora now has a mid-range jumper, an explosive first step Foothill defenders find difficulty stopping and she can jump out of the gym.

Valencia relied on her heavily this season to usher in a young crop of talent — the rest of the starting five was three freshmen and a sophomore.

Ikeora says she was in their shoes before so she identifies with them.

Plus they are so much better than she was at the same age.

Her size, intimidation factor and offensive ability freed fellow senior post player Paige Nealy to average nearly 14 points per game in league play, mostly off the bench.

Ikeora, who is also a multi-dimensional track and field athlete, is averaging 12.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game going into the CIF-Southern Section Division IAA playoffs.

Once those playoffs are over Valencia will miss a lot.

Starting with that smile and a personality that could light up a gymnasium.

“The thing I’ll miss most about her is the morale, camaraderie, teamsmanship,” Mike says.

Ikeora has more growth ahead of her Mike says, and more basketball.

She has four-year colleges wooing her to continue her career.

She says she wants to play basketball in college.

Maybe she’ll get into law enforcement down the line, she says.

But first she wants to make it past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in her high school career.

Valencia has lost in the second round of the postseason each of Ikeora’s previous three varsity seasons.

Here’s a dare.

Find someone who will smile bigger if Valencia gets farther this time around.


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