By Susan Salter Reynolds
Indira Evora '17 has a big decision to make. And the good news is that she'll have plenty of help making it.
Evora came to this country from Cape Verde when she was 4. Now that country's National Basketball League wants her back. Growing up in Massachusetts, Evora was often the only female on her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team. When she got older, she played for the New Hampshire Rivals. Saint Michael's head coach Shannon Kynoch M'15 discovered her at an AAU tournament in Connecticut and invited her up to take a look at Saint Michael's. "Everyone was so welcoming," Evora recalls. Being on the team meant she had 11 new friends. Immediately. But one in particular stuck out.
Tomi Akinpetide '17 remembers that day well. "I instantly knew we'd be friends," she says. Akinpetide was born in Australia. Her parents are from Nigeria. Her brother played basketball and came to the U.S. in an AAU league. Akinpetide and her sister also played in AAU leagues and went to Florida when Tomi was 12 and her sister was 16. Coach Kynoch discovered Tomi playing for Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and recruited her.
"I met Tomi in the gym lobby. She tried to shake my hand but I just gave her a hug. We've been roommates and best friends ever since. If someone sees me walking alone on campus, they'll ask, 'where's Tomi?'"
Their senior year at Saint Michael's, both Evora and Akinpetide were captains of the St. Mike's women's team. "Tomi knows if I'm not giving it my all," says Evora. "We can be honest with each other. The team sees this and they feel they can come to us, on and off the court. We model true friendship. It really cuts down on the drama!" "We've created a culture that is inclusive," says Akinpetide.
Coach Kynoch agrees. "Their friendship is contagious — it creates a safe space — and they bring real, drama-free leadership. This team has the least drama of any team I've coached for nine years!"
She continues, "We always encourage players to room together. But these two are like one beating heart! They complete each other's sentences. When you go out to dinner, they order the same meal! It's a unique bond. These young women are strong, confident, understanding leaders. I asked Indi, 'did I teach you anything about life?' The moving way she said 'yes' made me cry."
After graduation, Akinpetide will be going back to Australia. She's interested in pursuing a master's degree in clinical psychology and plans to play basketball on the side.
Evora is torn between going to see the place she was born and playing on the Cape Verde National Team for the summer (and maybe into the fall if they win the tournament) and starting a job, possibly in airport security.
Akinpetide has an opinion on this: "I want the best for her. My advice is to go back to Cape Verde and play. Then take the job!"
Both women swear the friendship will not fade away. "There's Skype and WhatsApp," says Akinpetide. Coach Kynoch is confident they'll stay friends. "Athletes struggle to find their identity after playing on teams," she says. "But the relationships they form endure. I tell them that I'm getting married next year and two of my bridesmaids were my teammates."