Mbamalu has grown into her game on the court for Lake Norman Charter
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Tuesday, Feb. 04, 2014

Mbamalu has grown into her game on the court for Lake Norman Charter

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/29/13/08/cdouR.Em.138.jpeg|350
    - COURTESY OF BOBBY WILLIAMS
    Lake Norman Charter senior center Ezinne Mbamalu, center, poses with Knights head coach Bobby Williams, left, and assistant coach Jessica Martin, right, after scoring her 1,000th career point earlier this season.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/29/13/08/NaE2A.Em.138.jpeg|363
    - COURTESY OF BOBBY WILLIAMS
    Lake Norman Charter senior center Ezinne Mbamalu signs her National Letter of Intent to play for Winthrop’s women’s basketball team next season.

When Ezinne Mbamalu began her career with Lake Norman Charter’s girls’ basketball team four years ago, she would be the first one to tell you she had “no game.”

While Knights head coach Bobby Williams admits the then-shy Mbamalu (pronounced Ez-in-AY M-bom-ah-LU) didn’t really know what she was doing on the court, he also saw raw ability and talent, combined with a 6-foot frame, that gave her a lot of potential.

“When she came in as a freshman, she would stand on the block and hold up her hand without moving on offense and just stand flat-footed and swat at shots on defense,” said Williams, who has led Lake Norman Charter’s girls basketball program since the school opened seven years ago.

“She could hardly make a shot from point blank, she would play volleyball with herself getting three or four rebounds before she made it. But I could also tell she was determined to get better.”

Mbamalu recalls the same struggles.

“I had played since I was 10 years old, but when I started my high school career, I might as well have just been starting the game,” said Mbamalu, who still posted solid numbers her freshman season, averaging 8.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

“I couldn’t even make a layup to save my life. I think I fouled out of almost every other game and I had a hard time catching passes. But I loved playing basketball and I wanted to improve.”

Improve would be an understatement.

Mbamalu’s determination and passion has transformed her into one of the best basketball players in school history. She now has a Lake Norman Charter record 1,269 rebounds and 326 blocks through Jan. 28.

She also has 1,229 career points, which puts her just ahead of teammate Alex Busch, and the two will likely end up 1-2 in school history in scoring.

Mbamalu – called “E” by her coaches, friends and teammates – became the first basketball player in school history to earn a Division I scholarship when she signed with Winthrop in November.

The now 6-foot-2, 17-year-old senior is having the best season of her career, averaging 16.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.8 blocks per game.

Mbamalu has had some impressive games, including 22 points and 21 rebounds against Forestview, 20 points and 18 rebounds against Mooresville, and 20 points and 17 boards in a win over Hopewell in the East Lincoln Winter Jam tournament’s championship game.

She has done all of this while helping Lake Norman Charter to a school-best 17-1 (through Jan. 29) start, including a 9-0 start in Big South 2A conference play.

The Knights have wins over MECKA 8 4A conference powers Hough, Hopewell, Mallard Creek and North Mecklenburg.

“I never imagined that I would be this successful on the basketball court,” Mbamalu said. “It’s hard to believe that my Lake Norman Charter career is almost over. I still remember the first practice with Coach Bobby. I try to just enjoy each moment, each game now and not think about it as my last run in Knights’ uniform.”

Mbamalu’s basketball career almost never happened. After playing YMCA ball from second to fourth grade, she stopped playing altogether in fifth and sixth grade and didn’t have much of a passion for the game at the time.

But after seeing her brother Ikenna – a 2013 Mallard Creek High graduate – pile up accomplishments and trophies in the same sport, she decided to get back on the court in the seventh grade.

“My brother really motivated me to get back on the court, because I wanted to be as good as him or better,” Mbamalu said.

Mbamalu began her efforts with the Lake Norman Charter middle school team and on the AAU circuit with the Lake Norman Magic and coach Stephen Dean, who she still plays for as a part of the Carolina Warriors.

Mbamalu says her year-round focus on the game, which includes Saturday-morning practices with her Lake Norman Charter teammates and countless hours in the gym, has made her the player she is today.

“I really can’t get enough basketball,” Mbamalu said. “I want to play all the time. I love working on my game.”

“‘E’ has really worked as hard as anyone on her game and I don’t she even realizes how good she can be,” said Williams, who often has long talks with Mbamalu about her game on the bus rides home after away games.

“I think she is just starting to live up to her potential. She does things in practice every day that amaze me, where it’s making a move or getting a rebound near the rim. She’s a completely different player than when she got here. I believe she is going to be even better at Winthrop.”

While Mbamalu has come a long way in her time with the Knights, she still has a lot she wants to accomplish in the last month or so of her Lake Norman Charter career.

After winning 80 games in the past four years, she still wants more, especially after her team went 24-6 last year before losing to eventual 1A state champion Bishop McGuinness in the 1A West sectional final.

Despite moving up to class 2A this season, Mbamalu believes the Knights can accomplish their ultimate goal.

“We’re trying to get a ring,” Mbamalu said. “I feel like we have the experience, talent and team to go all the way this time.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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