Before Blandine N’Goran returns home to the Ivory Coast she wants to accomplish two things. The Lady Lion basketball player wants a Heartland Conference championship ring and her bachelor’s degree.
Then she wants to go home and win again.
N’Goran, a junior international business major from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, followed her older sister onto the basketball court even though her friends played handball.
“I feel free and happy on the court,” she said.
She played for the Ivory Coast’s national team and her school, Lycee Moderne La Colombe. When she graduated from La Colombe in 2009, her plans to attend college halted due to ongoing civil unrest and fighting. For two years, she stayed with her sister and other family members trying to stay safe during a dangerous, unstable time.
“We didn’t know where to go, how to go, when to go,” she said. “Where do you find food and groceries?”
With a return to normalcy, N’Goran played basketball for the national team. After the Francophone Games, an athletic competition held every four years in which French-speaking countries compete against each other, N’Goran was asked if she wanted to play in the United States. Her mother, who was ill, encouraged her to go before she died in 2010. N’Goran packed her bags and journeyed to the United States.
“You have to have courage to leave your family and home,” she said.
N’Goran played for Kilgore College in 2012-13. However, junior college rules do not allow players older than 25. The now-27-year-old found her way to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. She knew she would sign to play with the Lady Lions when she saw the small classes with the ability to get to know the professors and learned of the basketball team’s legacy.
Playing ball with the Lady Lions under Head Coach Louis Whorton has made her a better player, she said. While playing in Ivory Coast, N’Goran played on the outside as a wing. At UAFS, she leaned to play the inside post position.
“Since she’s an older student athlete, she brings a lot of maturity and stability to the team,” Whorton said. “I think she will be a key cog in the success we’ll have this year.”
Though the team finished 9-17 in 2013-14, N’Goran is working for an improved season this year.
“I’m from Africa where to be a lion is to be king. We have to come back and be queens,” she said.
And she wants that conference championship that will bring her a ring. After graduation, she plans to take her honed skills back to her country and play for national team.
“I’m proud that I did that in my life,” she said of playing for her country. “I can’t wait to go back and play again and win.”
- Number 33
- Post position
- 2013-14 stats
- Started 17 of 22 games
- Blocked 30 shots
- Averaged 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game
The Lady Lions first game against Evangel University is set to tip off at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 in the Stubblefield Center. The full schedule may be found at www.uafortsmithlions.com.