Senior guard Nya Lok only entered the basketball scene when she filled in for her high school’s club team on a whim, but since then, she’s emerged as a defensive asset for the women’s basketball team at GW.
Lok, hailing from Melbourne, Australia, said she transferred from Midland College in Texas to GW in May 2021 because she wanted to join a “family-oriented” team, which she found at GW through support from the coaching staff and players on and off the court. Lok has become one of the team’s leading scorers at the 3-point line while playing a key role in the team’s defense surging through driving lanes to closely contest shots from deep.
As Lok moves forward in her senior year, she’s working to improve her defensive strategy to keep the competition on their toes, but has also enjoyed bonding with the team off the court, gathering for pizza nights, watching movies and spending downtime with her teammates.
Lok said the team devotes themselves to small commitments that help transform them into better players in the long term. She said she feels that each player on the team holds one another accountable, encouraging the entire team to stick to their goals, like staying consistent through the A-10 slate.
“It’s those little commitments every day that make you one percent better, so then by the end of the year, you’re like, 365 percent better than you were at the start, and then that’s what will get you there,” she said.
Lok said she started playing basketball in high school when she joined the school’s club team as a replacement for another player. Her experience as a substitute on her high school’s club team led to a permanent spot on the team and later a roster spot on a more competitive club, which eventually culminated in the opportunity to pursue basketball at the U.S. collegiate level.
Her career progressed at Midland College, where she spent two seasons and was chosen as the National Junior College Athletic Association Region V Player of the Week three times in the 2021-21 season.
In the summer of 2021, Lok – born in an Ethiopian refugee camp after her parents fled Sudan during the nation’s civil war – made history by participating in South Sudan’s first international women’s basketball team. Lok tackled point guard duties for the team, and after averaging 12 points and 3.2 assists per game, she earned the rank of the tournament’s “All-Star Five.”
Since her move to GW, Lok said she’s found herself on her feet more often – whether rushing between classes or spending more time on the court. She said she’d noticed a heavier class workload, a quicker pace in games and a hike in practices over the summer compared to her experience at Midland College.
She said she got the hang of this heightened pace of play during her first few games on the team, but she had a “rough” time keeping up with the competition after opponents started learning how to defend her after studying her film that revealed more about her techniques and skills on the court.
“I feel like people get smarter and so you have to keep putting in the work to keep up with the pace of it,” she said.
Last season, Lok appeared in 24 games, starting in 11 and averaging 5.8 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game and 16.7 minutes played. Lok has been one of the integral players at the 3-point line, which could translate into a higher-scoring team this season.
Lok said she’s committed to improving her defense and communication on the court to better collaborate with the squad this season. She said players set aside 15 minutes before each practice to develop their targeted skills, which, for Lok, means practicing defensive slides to quicken her feet.
She said she and her teammates have put up at least 250 3-point shots, or “Curry shots,” each practice throughout the off-season as part of a program designed by NBA star Stephen Curry – who takes a minimum of 250 shots per day. She said the consistent work from deep-range will help increase the team’s shooting percentage after shooting 34.3 percent from the field last season.
“There’s a lot of accountability, discipline, teamwork,” she said. “So there’s all these characteristics that you learn through basketball, and I feel like that takes you over to real life because those characteristics are qualities that people need in the real world.”
She said fellow senior teammates like forward Mayowa Taiwo, guard Essence Brown, forward Faith Blethen and guard Sheslanie Laureano have helped her vocalize the steps players need to take on the court to become better players.
“They’re very good at encouraging each other,” she said. “I mean, they use their voices a lot and communicate to make sure people know where they are on the floor or where they need to be.”
With on-court scrimmages and team outings, Lok said the players always come together and further their relationships with one another.
“You start to build a different type of family, and you both strive for the same goals and the same commitment,” she said. “So I just feel like it’s the relationships that keep you in the game.”
Ishani Chettri contributed reporting.
This article appeared in the November 7, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.