A London calling: How Evelyn Adebayo found basketball, and UConn
Evelyn Adebayo had just finished gym class one day in Year Seven (the British equivalent of sixth grade) when her PE teacher asked her to stay behind. The teacher noticed Adebayo was taller than most of her classmates and wanted her to give try out for basketball. The London native decided to give it a shot and ended up making the team.
Despite never having played before, Adebayo picked up the sport quickly and showed an uncanny understanding of the game.
“I think from the beginning when I started playing, all my coaches started seeing my potential,” Adebayo told reporters, standing in front of the snack shack at the Hartford Golf Club. “I could grasp onto stuff easily -- a natural talent, a grasp for the game. That’s probably because I watched the game a lot so I already understood it and how certain stuff works and what to do at certain times.”
It didn’t take long for her to flourish as she moved from playing for her school to playing for club teams. Eventually, she ended up at Barking Abbey Basketball Academy, a secondary school for players who hoped to reach the next level -- whether that be at an American college or professionally in Europe. As she progressed, Adebayo worked her way onto the English U16 National Team as well.
In England, soccer reigns supreme in the sporting world. For those into basketball like Adebayo and her teammates at Barking Abbey, it wasn’t always easy to watch their sport.
“You won’t find much of it outside,” she said. “If you want to watch it on TV, it’s not like how it is here, it’s not a whole bunch of channels. It’s something you’re going to have to watch online, search it up, watch a lot of YouTube videos.”
Since nearly everyone at the academy hoped to play in the US, college basketball was popular. Different people had their own favorite teams and players to follow and keep tabs on. But there was always one school on everyone’s radar.
“UConn was definitely a big thing,” Adebayo said. “Everyone wanted to go to or dreamt of going to it.”
But for a while, that’s all it was: A dream. No player from England had even been on the Huskies’ roster before. Adebayo’s arrival changed that and now what once seemed like a fantasy is suddenly a reality.
“I’m very humble and grateful to be here,” she said. “This is a dream -- beyond a dream because where I’m from, people don’t usually make it here so to be in a position to have this platform is something I definitely want to take advantage of and not take for granted.”
As a fifth-year, Adebayo is the oldest player on UConn’s roster. However, she’s also one of the newest as a grad transfer from Murray State. Adebayo needs to adjust to a new school, new program, new rules. But she has experience transferring to a new school, moving from Gardner-Webb to Murray State after her sophomore year. It doesn’t hurt that Adebayo has no problem asking her teammates for help either.
“I’m an older guy, it’s my last year but I’ve transferred before,” she said. “It’s okay to ask the younger girls ‘Are we allowed to wear this? Does this happen?’ It’s okay because they’re your teammates and we have the same goals and whatnot. It’s good to also ask my teammates how such things work and what I need to do. I have no shame in asking my teammates for help.”
After all, it was a near-instant connection with those teammates that brought Adebayo to UConn in the first place.
“When I came here for my visit, everything was so perfect. They were so welcoming and friendly, it was a no-brainer for me,” she said. “It just felt so natural and perfect honestly. Deciding to come here was the perfect decision and choice for me.”
Adebayo’s previous stops at Gardner-Webb and Murray State didn’t give much hope for postseason success. So for her final college season, Adebayo came to UConn with one goal in mind: To win. And she’s willing to do whatever’s necessary to finish her collegiate career with the ultimate victory: A national championship.
“It’s my last year,” she said. “I want to help the team any way I can and as much as I can, too. I want to come in and make an impact straight away and help the team any way, whether that’s rebounding, setting good screens, even being a scorer if I need. Whatever it is, I want this team to be as successful as possible and go as far as possible. That’s what really matters to me and improving and learning on the way.”