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Irish eyes are smiling

Natalie Achonwa has had huge hoops success in her career so far.

And at just 18-years-old, she may just be getting warmed up.

The Guelph cager is coming off a whale of a rookie season for the NCAA Division I’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The team made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before falling 76-60 to Texas A&M. Her first NCAA season saw her become a unanimous selection for the NCAA’s Big East All-Freshman team.

The 6-foot-3 forward attended Centennial CVI in Grade 9 before moving on to the Hamilton-based National Elite Development Academy.

She would go on to suit up for the Canadian women’s senior team at the fresh-faced age of 16.

On the heels of her big rookie season with the Irish, the Trib fired a handful of questions Achonwa’s way.

Q: You reached the NCAA championship game as a rookie at Notre Dame before the team lost to Texas A&M. Now that you’re a few weeks removed from the finals, what’s your big-picture take on the season?

Natalie Achonwa: Now that it’s all over, I’ve had the opportunity to look back at my freshman season. I have been so blessed to be able to be a part of a team and a program that’s dedicated to success. We worked hard, day in and day out, and it was evident when we reached the championship game.

The best part is we were expected to have difficulty all tournament and not get past Tennessee in the Elite Eight. But we did it. We beat them all. And we proved that we will work hard, and we can compete with the best in the country.

Q: What is one thing you prefer about living in the U.S. versus Canada? And vice versa?

N.A: There is nothing about living in the U.S. that I would choose over Canada (or vise versa). At home I have my family, my friends and the city I grew up in. At Notre Dame, I have my teammates, my classmates and the South Bend community. No matter where I am, I am surrounded by exceptional people, and couldn’t ask for anything more.

Q: The NCAA final game was played in front of 17,000-plus fans, most of them rooting for the Irish. What was that like?

N.A.: We were very fortunate to have the Final Four located in Indianapolis because it was in our school’s home state. Our team has the best fans in the nation and they all came out to show their support for our team and our program.

Q: It’s a Saturday night and you’re doing nothing basketballrelated. What might you be up to?

N.A. Notre Dame has wonderful groups that put on various events throughout the week and on weekends. They typically range from school-wide BBQs to skate parties at the local USA skate park.

If I’m not at one of the events, I’ll either be watching a movie, hanging out with friends, or most likely sleeping! I like to take advantage of the weekends to catch up on the sleep I was deprived of during the week.

Q: You were 16 and playing your first game for the Canadian national team. What in the world was that like?

N.A.: My first year on the national team was a learning year for me; I really was just trying to be a sponge. I had so many experienced coaches and fellow teammates that I just wanted to take as much as I could from them.

Q: What are the three mostplayed songs on your iPod?

N.A.: July, by Drake feat Jhene Aiko; Fly, by Nicki Minaj feat Rihanna; Losing My Balance, by J. Cole.

Q: Care to share a game-day ritual or superstition you might have?

N.A.: I don’t have any serious rituals or superstitions. But I normally just listen to my iPod and I always sit on the same seat on the bus and in the locker room.

Q: How did you and the team celebrate the win over Connecticut in the Final Four game?

N.A.: We continued our regular routine. Yes, the win over Connecticut was exciting and big for our program but it wasn’t the championship – we still had another game to play.We enjoyed the moment but the next day we were right back in the gym trying to focus and get ready for Texas A&M.

Q: Can you fill in the blanks?

• Jersey Shore is/are something I’ll never understand the popularity of.• The Real World is a “guilty pleasure” TV show I like.• LeBron James is, for my money, the greatest athlete in the world right now.

Q: Alive or not, who are three well-known people you’d like to have over for dinner and drinks?

N.A: Martin Luther King Jr., Trey Songz, Beyonce.

Q: Where do you see yourself life-wise and basketball-wise in, say, seven years?

N.A: Hopefully playing somewhere overseas somewhere and/or in the WNBA!

Q: Can you pass us your favourite . . .• Band or musician: Drake • Actor: Shemar Moore • Actress: Sanaa Lathan • TV show: Law & Order SVU and Criminal Minds • Movie: Love & Basketball • Food: Any kind of salad • Drink: Lemonade with Sprite • Pro sports franchise: Toronto Raptors • Sport aside from basketball: Soccer 

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