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Princess Aghayere, the winner of the 2019 President's Engagement Prize, heads to Valencia, Spain to play professional basketball after spending a year working on her NGO, Rebound Liberia. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

Former Penn women's basketball standout Princess Aghayere has kept busy since her graduation in 2019.

After winning the President’s Engagement Prize her senior year, Aghayere traveled with two friends to Liberia to begin an organization named Rebound Liberia, which seeks to empower women by promoting education and spreading the game of basketball. 

Though Aghayere is Nigerian, she selected Liberia as the location for her organization’s commencement, as she thought it would be best to begin her work in a smaller country first.  

“I think the whole point is sustainability, so we built a foundation and we want to keep building upon it and staying consistent,” Aghayere said. 

The trio arrived in Liberia in September 2019 and held their first basketball tournament just a couple months later. With 120 participants, Rebound Liberia’s first project had already qualified as the largest ever girls' basketball tournament in Liberia. 

As Chief Funding Director, Aghayere described her role as mainly interacting face-to-face with potential sponsors and funders in Liberia. Through her fundraising efforts, Rebound Liberia was able to raise another $15-20,000 in just one year, in addition to the $100,000 granted to Aghayere from the President’s Engagement Prize.

Unluckily, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Aghayere and her organization in the worst possible year for an NGO — its first. Forced to adapt and create a flexible schedule, the organization shifted from after-school programming in the spring to computer literacy and personal development in the summer and fall. 

Liberia’s safety protocols and regulations became very severe, as the country was also hit with cases of Ebola simultaneously, resulting in even more face-washing, distancing, and curfews. If all goes well regarding the viruses, Rebound Liberia hopes to host its second annual basketball tournament in late October in line with all safety protocols.

In the meantime, back in the United States, Aghayere’s agent, whom she had signed with upon graduation, continued to search for playing opportunities once she returned from Liberia. Browsing a few options in Europe and some in Nigeria, Aghayere ultimately settled on Spain as the best option for her, as it provided her with the ability to compete at the highest level. 

This fall, Aghayere will play for Valencia Basket Club, S.A.D. (known as LF2) in the Liga Femenina de Baloncesto, the top flight of Spanish women’s basketball. The contract is for one year and provides Aghayere with options to transfer, re-sign, or leave after this season.

“My only real expectation is to enjoy this moment and take it all in, and not get too anxious about the language thing,” Aghayere said. 

Though, Aghayere admittedly says she is worried about the culture and how comfortable she will feel in this new atmosphere. Likewise, she fears her time in Spain may have a more contractual and transactional feel rather than the loving and tight-knit team atmosphere at Penn and more generally in college sports. 

Nonetheless, Aghayere is ready for the discoveries she knows she will make and is excited for yet another learning experience. 

As for Rebound Liberia in the next year, Aghayere hopes to advise the organization from afar and revisit when she can. In the long term, the plan for Rebound Liberia is to sustain itself as it continues to expand and promote basketball worldwide, in particular amongst women. 

Aghayere sees an enormous future for basketball worldwide, and especially in Africa, where she hopes to continue fostering basketball communities and making a tangible impact on the youth and future. The Basketball Africa League — an international league for the continent's best teams — launched this past year, but its play was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. 

While previously there were basketball club championships in Africa, the BAL marks monumental and significant support from larger organizations, such as the NBA, which vocally and actively seeks to spread basketball worldwide. 

It is undeniable that the future of basketball across the world looks bright, and Aghayere hopes to contribute to that coming future, whether she decides to continue her playing career, continue her work with Rebound Liberia, or pave her own path.