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Former Bishop Mac court star finding her way in the NCAA

Naomi Ganpo is in her third season with the NCAA Lafayette Leopards

Spending anywhere between two and three hours on a bus every school day to attend high school in Guelph proved to be worthwhile for Naomi Ganpo.

The 6-foot-3 graduate of Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School is a junior forward with the Lafayette College Leopards women’s basketball team, an NCAA D1 school in Easton, Pa., whose teams play in the Patriot League.

“What I'm going to give amazing props to is Bishop Mac in general,” Ganpo said in a video call.

“My teachers in high school were very much helpful at pushing me to my max, especially with the rigours of our program, IB (International Baccalaureate). My transition from high school to college was very much smooth because as much as I hated in high school how hard my classes were and how hard my program was, it was a very good prepatory program for college. When I got here, yes it was hard, but I was able to maintain my academic standards because I already knew what it was like and how tough it was going to be.”

Ganpo, who lived in Brampton, ended up at Bishop Mac when she joined the Guelph Prep squad that played a single season in the girls’ division of the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association before folding. While all the other out-of-town players on the prep team went back to their previous schools, Ganpo kept going to Bishop Mac.

“If I was to switch schools, I would have to drop the (IB) program,” Ganpo said. “My dad was a teacher in IB at his own school and it was one of his dreams for me to complete the program, so I had to stay in Guelph just to finish that academic side.

“At first, I was disappointed because I lost a lot of my girls and that was the only reason I was there. But I found purpose there. I really liked the team. I liked the girls, the community. Everyone was really nice and welcoming. I ended up finishing my year there and it was really nice.”

And she was an all-star in the District 10 senior league in her final season, but she never stayed in Guelph, instead preferring to commute so she could keep her friends in Brampton.

“I used to take the GO bus to go back to Brampton,” she said. “The GO bus driver would know me and he'd wait for me at the bus stop. I enjoyed my time there. It was a great community.

“I needed to stay with my family. That was the only thing that would keep me a little bit grounded. I'd get to see my friends from home so I'd take the bus every day to go to school.”

Now 20, the discipline Ganpo learned then is coming in real handy now as she combines her academics – she’s studying biology – with her athletics at Lafayette.

The Leopards are off to a slow start this season as they’ve lost all four of their matches, two to Lehigh and two to Bucknell. However, Ganpo has received more playing time each game and she responded with a team-high 16 points in 28 minutes of playing time in a 79-45 loss to Bucknell last time out.

“Definitely I feel like I've kind of grown into my role,” Ganpo said. “Coming in my first two years, I kind of struggled with the transition from high school to college. It's very much different. The competition level is a complete drastic difference and I just had to get adjusted to it.”

Bishop Mac dominated play her final year of high school ball, going a perfect 12-0 in D10 play to win the title and Ganpo was one of the elite players in the league. That’s not the same now as all her teammates were elite players in high school.

“Here, all the girls are the same as me,” she said. “They were all the best in high school and we're all put in together and we're all competing against one another. It just took a lot of time to just get adjusted to that reality.”

Something else that took a little bit to get used to this season is wearing a mask while playing basketball.

“It's kind of weird,” she said. “You have the option not to play with a mask. However, our coach to prepare to play one of the teams (Boston University) where they are located in the state of Massachusetts, they have rules there where they have to wear masks, so our coach is preparing us to play against them.

“We have to play with our masks, but the opposing teams are not wearing a mask. We're the only ones wearing it and it's just for preparation. Most of us, we know how to practise and play with a mask.”

Something else that’s different this year is the schedule as the Patriot League has become strictly a weekend league that features home-and-home series against a different opponent each weekend.

“That's completely not normal,” Ganpo said. “Usually we play Wednesdays and Saturdays and we don't play the same team back-to-back, but it's COVID protocol to reduce the spread.

“That's the best way to handle these types of situations.”

The Leopards also had four of their games postponed and are to return to league play this coming weekend.

“We are having health concerns on our campus and our team has had to quarantine for a little bit,” she said. “We have to stay safe in this Covid era, but we will be back.”

The break might have come at a good time for the Leopards.

“We kind of needed this time to regroup,” Ganpo said. “As you can see by our record, we're not doing really fine. We're 0-4. So I feel we all needed this time to reflect on what has happened and how we could do better. It was a very much needed vacation.”

Ganpo, who is of Cameroonian descent, feels she’s progressing as a player and is getting used to the speed of the game at the U.S. college level.

“I felt like I wasn't growing into my role (as a post player) and being more physical because I was just very much trying to get used to the pace of college basketball, which is very different from high school,” she said. “It's transition defence and transition offence mostly so (I was) getting used to that and getting used to playing a different set of defences. We're playing more man-to-man defence and I struggled with rotation, but I feel like my defensive game has gotten better.”

While this season isn’t a normal one, Ganpo does have goals for the campaign.

“Obviously with the whole COVID situation, you have to adjust your goals and you have to adjust your standards,” she said. “I guess what I envisioned for myself was just to continue growing and not to let a certain performance get to my head and stay true to myself. I played well against a really high-ranked team in our league and that was good for me, but I'm very much a person that's able to stay in a straight line regardless of anything. I'm not going to let this performance get to me, but I'm also going to be cognizant that, yes, I played well and I'm going to use what I did there to better help my team.”