It is a long way from Port Harcourt, Nigeria to Washington, D.C. But for Mactabene Amachree of the Women's National Basketball Association's Washington Mystics, that journey has been well worth the effort.
After becoming the first Nigerian to play in the WNBA in 2001, Amachree is now with her third team, and she has been able to secure a career for herself in the United States. Amachree has played for New York, Seattle and now Washington since arriving four years ago. She told VOA Sports she has been able to adapt easily to the cultural differences between those cities and her homeland.
"You kind of expect it because you watch TV, you watch movies. And my older brother's here, and I have friends that have been here and played. So I kind of had an idea of what to expect before I got here. But it's still different," she said.
Amachree's time in the United States has done a lot to increase the profile of women's basketball in Nigeria, and the number of people playing the sport has increased as a result.
"Oh, it is increasing a lot, and now we're going to the grassroots. Almost probably every town around the country, so it is getting bigger," she said.
Amachree, 27, also realizes the impact that basketball has had on her life, and the impact that it can have on the lives of those who would like to follow in her footsteps. "If I can make it, you can make it," she said. "It's an avenue for you to get an education. You get a good chance to get an education, you get a chance to do what you love doing. I love playing basketball, I'm happy."
Mactabene Amachree's coach, Richie Adubato, has also been a firsthand witness to the growth of women's basketball. He has played a major role in it, too, having coached in the WNBA since its inception in 1997. Adubato is also well known on the men's side of things. Previously, he coached the NBA's Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic in the 1980's and 90's, as the NBA became a symbol of glitz and glamor for sports fans around the world.
"When they see the MCI Center (in Washington) and they see Madison Square Garden (in New York City), and they see all the places that we play our games, and they see the TV coverage, that's just even a bigger incentive for them to play," she said.
Adubato added that he thinks women's basketball will keep getting bigger in the years to come as it spreads around the world. "It's going to continue to grow, again, as long as you have the Olympics and as long as people are exposed to the league and to women's sports," she said.
As for this season, Nigerian Mactabene Amachree has only appeared in three games, in part because of an injured ankle. But Adubato appreciates what she has been able to give to the team at other times, especially in practice. "She is a very coachable young lady, a tremendous personality, fun to have around," she said.
Back home, Amachree is princess of the Ojuka Clan of the Kalabari tribe, and her father was the spiritual leader of the Cherubim and Seraphim church. But when she is at the MCI Center, the Mystics' home arena in downtown Washington, all she wants to talk about is basketball.