MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – On Saturday, a former Robert Morris women’s basketball great was back on campus for her induction into the RMU Athletic Hall of Fame.
That’s Artemis Spanou, who starred in Moon Township from 2010 to 2014 and ultimately went down as one of the best to ever do it in a Colonials uniform. Spanou was a trailblazer in her own right, with a smooth European style to her game that allowed her to blossom into an elite scorer, rebounder, passer and – most of all – leader. Whether it was record-setting numbers, NEC championship runs or the 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, Spanou’s impact on the program is unrivaled today.
But Spanou wasn’t the first standout to pass through the program during the Sal and Charlie Buscaglia eras of the last 16 years. For a little history lesson, there was Surgeiry Monsac – the 2005 Northeast Conference Player of the Year who went on to play professionally in Israel. And Sade Logan, a top-20 recruit out of high school who, in addition to winning NEC Player of the Year in 2009, set an NCAA Division I record for single-season three-pointers with 126.
Chinata Nesbit was a two-time NEC tournament MVP, followed by Angela Pace, who became the first player in league history to earn both NEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. And don’t forget 2017 grad Anna Niki Stamolamprou – one of two players in RMU history to total 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists, and 100 steals in her career.
As the first-place Colonials gear up for an NEC championship run in the coming weeks, it’s time to add another name to the list.
Nneka Ezeigbo is the real deal.
“That’s the NEC player of the year you’re talking to,” whispered RMU athletic director Chris King as he walked by while PSN was interviewing Ezeigbo in a quiet hallway of the UPMC Events Center.
King may be a little biased, but he certainly has a point. Ezeigbo, the NEC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has spent her senior season putting the finishing touches on an esteemed Robert Morris career. In 2019, she won NEC tournament MVP while leading the Colonials to a league title, and later received her third All-NEC selection in three years. And now this season, the 6-foot-2 center is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game – her best numbers to date – and leads the conference in field goal percentage (.482). Furthermore, she’s fifth in total rebounding and third in offensive boards, and anchors the Colonials’ top-ranked scoring defense.
“I’ve been pushed a lot, and I’ve grown a lot since my freshman year,” said Ezeigbo.
She has, indeed. Though all it takes is one conversation with Ezeigbo to understand the methodology behind her success. She may the best player on the best team in the NEC (the Colonials are 15-1 in league play), but in her eyes, there’s always more work to be done.
“I struggle with consistency,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always struggled with and I still do. You’ll see it in the box scores. I’m still working on that and still have a little bit of time.”
In response, I had no choice but to remind her that, at the very least, she’s been consistent enough to earn a NEC Defensive Player of the Year award along with three straight all-conference nods, which placed her in a distinct class within the Robert Morris program. It can’t be that bad, right?
“Well, yes,” she answered with a laugh. “But it can always get better.”
That mindset is what sets her apart – always has, and always will. Ask any of her coaches, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
“She hasn’t settled,” said Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia. “When she got here, she was inexperienced and needed a lot of structure and discipline. She showed heart when she responded to that structure and discipline during her freshman year. You always saw those little battles be responded to in a positive away. That was important, and that was when we really realized she had a chance to grow into a strong and independent woman.”
Ezeigbo was thrust into a significant role as a freshman, averaging 17.1 minutes per game on the 2016-17 NEC championship team that took on Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. She had to learn on the fly back then, and never shied away from a little tough love from the coaching staff. It fueled her progression from a once raw prospect from New Jersey into the polished baller with an all-around game she is today.
“Coach B used to drill me,” said Ezeigbo. “Him and (assistant coach Scott Schneider) went after me. They saw my potential and tried their best to keep me on the right path. Encouraged me and kept pushing me. So, my best games you’ve seen, those are a product of all the hard days”
In reality, Division I basketball isn’t for everybody. Often times, players respond negatively to adversity and blunt criticism from their coaches. Mental toughness is a necessity for growth, and you either have it or you don’t. In Ezeigbo’s case, she definitely has it – just like someone else who used to lead the Colonials NEC championship chasing not too long ago.
“Artemis (Spanou), from the moment she walked in the door to where she was her senior year, she underwent a ton of growth and development,” said Buscaglia. “Nneka was the same way. One of the biggest similarities between the two was their mentality when they first got here. You know, they were very young, but they were very involved right away in big moments down the stretch.
“I can definitely say that they are both players who have turned in some pretty great performances for this program on several occasions.”
Ezeigbo looks up to Spanou, who, in her words, is “a perfect example for anyone who wants to be great.” She was on hand Saturday for Spanou’s Hall of Fame ceremony, and the two hugged and caught up beforehand. On the brink of her final NEC tournament, the conversation provided Robert Morris’ lone senior with some wise words of advice from someone who has been there before.
“Arte told me to keep being the leader of the team. Be the senior. Be the person this team needs for the rest of the season,” said Ezeigbo. “I don’t have much time left here, but I’m going to cherish every minute of it.”