PHOENIX — The landscapes of Garden City, Kansas, and Phoenix are vastly different. With one surrounded by flat terrain and the other featuring dry heat and cacti, both entail a change in scenery.
For Kavita Akula, both locations serve as stepping stones in her unique journey to playing Division I college basketball.
Akula is a junior guard on the Grand Canyon University women’s basketball team, playing her first season with the Antelopes after transferring from Garden City Community College.
While the transition from a community college program to the Division I level might be intriguing in itself, Akula’s story includes another interesting fact: She is the first India-born player in the history of Division I women’s basketball to receive a full scholarship.
“She has been through a lot with her journey and all of the places she has been,” GCU coach Nicole Powell said. “She’s just very smart and has a high emotional IQ. She has great self-awareness, loves people and has a great sense of humor.”
Akula moved to the United States from India when she was 14 years old. She played her high school basketball at IMG Academy, and she represented India in the 2017 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, where she won a Division B Championship.
After high school, Akula ventured out to Garden City, where she averaged 8.9 points, 1.2 assists and two rebounds per game. After two years with the program, Akula was a late signee with the Lopes, arriving last April along with Powell.
“I got the job (as head coach), I think in the middle or end of April. … So, it was a really quick recruiting process and we only had six players returning,” Powell said. “I am so thankful for being late into the recruiting process that (Akula) gave us a shot and gave me a shot.” As for how Akula is developing in her new home, the change in climate and landscape have not affected her too much, and she is settling into her role as a sharp-shooter on the GCU roster. Akula is shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line this season.
“I just love it here,” Akula said. “It’s just my first year, and it’s really different from Kansas. I am just getting used to everything. … Coach Nicole recruited me coming from Kansas, and I just came because of her.”
Akula might even aspire to be like her head coach one day as she hopes to cultivate the sport of basketball in India.
It has become increasingly popular there, second, many believe, to the sport of cricket. The NBA recently opened NBA Academy India in New Delhi and has had a hand in creating many grassroots programs. The league had its first player from India drafted when Satnam Singh Bhamara was selected by the Dallas Mavericks in 2015.
Akula is also hoping to pursue a coaching career in her home country in the future.
“Playing under Coach Nicole will teach me to do well if I become a coach,” Akula said.
Similar to her coaching staff, Akula will aspire to transcend a young program that just recently became eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“We are a pretty young coaching staff, which is awesome in that we are all learning to grow from each other,” GCU assistant coach Brad Langston said. “The new kids that we have brought in, like Kavita, … have just been phenomenal kids and they want to continue to get better, and want to be a part of what Grand Canyon is about.”
With the home stretch of conference play winding down, Akula will only look to grow along with her team as she settles into her new home with the purple and black.
“She has had a life experience, which helps, especially for our young kids that are coming in,” Langston said of Akula. “It’s helping to lead them. She understands what adversity is and facing life from moving away from your family and being in a new country. … She takes everything in stride, and it’s just just helping to lead our kids on and off the court.”
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