Jan. 9, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Former South Carolina center Elem Ibiam (2011-2015) enjoys watching the Gamecocks as a fan in Colonial Life Arena, but she can't wait to get back on the floor and continue her professional career. Ibiam's second year of professional basketball in Europe got off to a rocky start due to a knee injury which has sidelined her until late next spring, so she is back in Columbia rehabilitating after surgery and is thankful that her time as a Gamecock prepared her for the next level.
"With Coach (Dawn) Staley always telling us to be disciplined; that really helped me a lot," Ibiam said. "As a professional, no one is going to wake you up to make sure you go to weights and work out. You have to do all of that on your own to keep your body in shape. The discipline that Coach instilled in us has really paid off.
"I had surgery two months ago, and rehab is going well. If I stay on track, I should be back to full contact at the end of April. I'm looking forward to getting back."
Ibiam was a big part of South Carolina's first two SEC Championship teams as the starting center in her final two seasons, as well as the program's first appearance in the NCAA Final Four as a senior in 2014-2015. A stalwart defender who was named to the SEC All-Defensive team in 2014, she set a school record with 83 blocks that season (a record broken last season by A'ja Wilson). Ibiam ranks fourth on South Carolina's career blocks list.
"Definitely going to the Final Four my senior year is my best memory," Ibiam said of her time as a Gamecock. "Just having those relationships with my teammates for four years makes me feel like I have sisters for a lifetime."
Ibiam began her second season of professional basketball playing for Kangoeoroes in Belgium's Top Division before suffering a torn ACL. After graduating in 2015, Ibiam had a short stint in Germany before playing her first year of pro ball in Finland where she averaged 13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
"We had a really good league in Finland, and there were a couple of girls from the SEC who played there as well," Ibiam said. "So it was like having friends there."
Although she put up good numbers in Finland, there were adjustments to be made, on and off the court.
"It's freezing cold," Ibiam laughed. "Our season started in August and ended the second week in April. The league was competitive. There were four Americans, and it was our first year, so the older Finnish girls really helped us with the adjustments. It was fun.
"As a post player here, I was in the paint most of the time. In Europe, they want you to shoot more from the wing or the short corner or the elbow. It was different, but I liked it."
Always listen to your coach because they are always right. Even when it's hard, stay encouraged.
A native of Fayetteville, Ga., Ibiam admits that being so far from home was difficult at first.
"I'm an only child, so I realized I didn't have my mom or family where I could just drive to their house for help," Ibiam said. "Facetime is an amazing thing. I talk to my family and my former teammates like Aleighsa (Welch) a lot.
"I text a lot with Coach Staley, and she encourages me a lot. She knows it's hard to play over there."
Ibiam hopes to be playing basketball for many years to come, but whenever she does hang up the high tops, she looks forward to using her degree in criminal justice.
"I hope to do something in the legal field or with the FBI," Ibiam said. "I've been talking to a few people about the FBI, so that has my attention."
In the meantime, Ibiam looks forward to getting back to Belgium and resuming her career, while also exploring more of her surroundings.
"In Brussels and Antwerp, there is a lot going on," Ibiam said. "Off the court, the people there are really nice and friendly. On the court, my teammates are really nice, too. The European girls are sometimes anxious about the American players, but my teammates are really helpful.
"I've enjoyed being in Europe. Back here in America, everyone is in a hurry. Over there, it's a really calm atmosphere."
Before she goes, she has sage advice for the younger student-athletes.
"Always listen to your coach because they are always right," Ibiam chuckled. "Even when it's hard, stay encouraged. Always be there to encourage your teammates who support you, and always talk to your family."
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