More Than an Athlete: Valencia’s Chidinma Ikonte

Chidinma Ikonte holds up her acceptance letter from UCLA at a basketball court near her house Wednesday morning. Chidinma played basketball for Valencia and accepted a full ride to UCLA for academics. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.

Filling out college applications, for the most part, can be tricky and nerve-racking. But for Valencia’s Chidinma Ikonte, applying to numerous different colleges and universities across the country, the process became all too routine and normal.

Ikonte applied for 11 schools in total, including University of California, Berkeley; the University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Irvine; Emory University, John Hopkins University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Vanderbilt University, University of Chicago and Harvard University.

Spring was going to be very busy.

“I would say I’m a very confident person,” Ikonte said. “I know what I want and I know that I have to work hard to get what I want, but at the same time I do like to see everyone around me succeeding because there’s no fun in being at the top if you’re by yourself.”

Finishing her high school career with a cumulative 4.72 GPA, Ikonte earned a 5.0 GPA her senior year, improving from a 4.5 GPA her freshman year.

“I think I get it from my parents because both of them are immigrants from Nigeria and they grew up with nothing,” Ikonte said. “Now we live in Valencia, of all places, and they got us here because education was a key for them to come to America and start a life.

“They input the ideas into my siblings that you have to work for everything that you want and no one is going to give us any handouts.”

Her persistence and mindset have paid dividends.

Ultimately deciding to attend UCLA on a full scholarship, Ikonte will be studying Human Biology and Society, hoping to become a surgeon in the near future.

“Growing up I always wanted to be a doctor and after one of my aunts passed away in 2014. It really affected me and I wanted to do more to help people,” Ikonte said.

Admittingly having a hard time deciding between her top two schools, UCLA and Vanderbilt, Ikonte turned to a higher presence and her intuition to make her decision.

“It was this whole experience that God led me through,” Ikonte said. “I just prayed about it and trusted that God would provide everything that I needed to go to that school and that he would make it unequivocally clear that that was the school that he wanted me to go to.”

Moving to Valencia from Corona of Riverside County in the sixth grade, Ikonte picked basketball back up after a years-long hiatus.

“I started playing when I was in the second grade, but after a year I stopped because I didn’t like it and my mom kind of forced me to. Then we moved out here and I guess this time I wanted to play.”

Starting with the 2014-2015 season at Valencia, Ikonte played on the varsity squad all four years of her high school career. Improving with each year that passed, Ikonte averaged six points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game in her senior campaign on the second-place Foothill League team.

“I’m so glad that I played basketball at Valencia. It was definitely tough,” Ikonte said. “There were times that I would come home bawling my eyes out, not necessarily because of something that someone did, but the fact that it is a mental and physical battle every day.”

Ikonte was also on the track and field team, competing in high jump, long jump and triple jump.

Battling out on the court, at every practice or game, Ikonte used her basketball training and applied it with her willingness to learn and excelled in the classroom, as her grades and transcripts show.

“I’ve never gotten a B before in my life,” Ikonte said.

Excited to begin a new chapter in her life, Ikonte will look to reinvent herself at UCLA.

“I want to become the best version of me and meet new people from different walks of life,” Ikonte said.

Thankful for her time at Valencia, Ikonte hopes that her legacy will be one of positivity and inspiration a message that she has carried, as her cellphone’s background, with her since the eighth grade.

“When I was heading into freshman year,” Ikonte said, “I told my mom I’m going to go to Valencia and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but one way or another, God is going to help me make an impact and inspire people.”

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