Basketball

Hoop-playing Monica Okoye aims to one-up brother

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Monica Okoye is fine about being labeled as the sister of professional baseball player Rui Okoye — for now.

“I am where I am because of my (older) brother,” Okoye humbly said at the first training camp of the Japan women’s provisional national team in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old forward has become a candidate to play on the senior national team for the first time. Japan will compete at the Asian Games in Jakarta this summer and at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in late September.

Okoye said that she and her brother, an outfielder for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, have always gotten along well with each other.

She revealed that Rui frequently likes to play pranks on her, but that is a sign of how connected they are. She said that last year her brother sent a big carton box to her with just a Umaibo (a small puffed cylindrical snack) inside.

“I sent a message saying ‘You bastard!’ through LINE (a messaging app),” said Okoye, who was born to a Japanese mother and Nigerian father, with a laugh.

Okoye said that her 20-year-old brother recently gave her a ticket to an Eagles game at Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi in Sendai, so she went to see him play.

She excitedly detailed the fact that she had a great seat behind home plate.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t possess great knowledge about the sport.

“I don’t know much about baseball rules, so I’m not sure if he did well or not,” Okoye said with a smile, when asked how her brother fared.

So despite her lack of baseball knowledge, Monica Okoye insisted that he is the closest rival she has and is the one she wants to outshine as an athlete.

She is currently recognized as “the sister of Rui Okoye,” but wants to reverse that label in the future.

“I would like to eventually make people call Rui ‘the older brother of Monica,’ ” said Okoye, who joined the Women’s Japan Basketball League’s Denso Iris last season out of Myojo Gakuen High School of Tokyo (she did not appear in games during an injury-plagued season).

Rui Okoye has stated publicly that Monica is more talented athletically than he is.

“I’m better than him,” Monica said with a chuckle when asked if she agrees with her brother’s sentiment.

Okoye is eager to make the national squad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but she had not been that determined about it until recently.

“I wasn’t particular about the (Tokyo) Olympics before about my high school senior year,” said Okoye, who averaged 4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds for Japan at the 2016 Under-17 World Championships, where Japan placed ninth.

“But I was told (that I have a shot). Now I can confidently say that I want to make it happen.”

For the provisional national team, Okoye has been assigned to play small forward instead of power forward, her position throughout her career. She said that she has confidence in her ball handling skills. But to play small forward she has been working on 3-point shooting and shot blocking.

Rui, Rakuten’s first-round draft pick in 2015, played for the Samurai Japan national team at the Asia Professional Baseball Championship last fall.

Who knows what the future holds?

The Okoyes could both compete at the Tokyo Games in their respective sports.