Michigan State center Idong Ibok has come a long way. A native of Nigeria, Ibok came to the United States in 2003 to attend Montverde Academy in Florida. He spent a year there, playing basketball and learning about America. The 6-foot-11 Ibok enrolled at Michigan State a year later, and he has made college look easy since, earning Big Ten All-Academic team honors three years in a row. (And probably a fourth; the Big Ten names its All-Academic team later this month.) In his fifth year in East Lansing—he redshirted his freshman year—Ibok is on his way to a master's degree in advertising.
Tell us about growing up in Nigeria and how it prepared you for coming over to the United States.
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, is different from life here in the U.S., but the challenges I faced growing up with four siblings and being raised by my mother alone helped discipline me and prepare me for life alone in America.
How is American school different from Nigerian school?
Our schooling system in Nigeria is patterned after the British school system and is a little more intensive than the American school system.
You enrolled at Montverde Academy in Florida before heading to Michigan State. Did you have a hard time transitioning when you arrived in Florida for high school?
No, I didn't have a hard time getting acclimated to life over here, mainly because most of the kids at my high school were international students, and the school staff did an outstanding job helping all of us get used to life in the U.S.
Once you got to Michigan State, what kinds of studying habits and routines did you develop to keep up with school?
It wasn't too hard developing study routines. I basically just took advantage of the study halls, tutorial sessions, and academic advising set up for us by the student-athlete support services.
Do you like to have any music or TV on in the background while you do your work, or do you prefer the silence?
No, I prefer studying in perfect silence.
You're a fixture on the Big Ten All-Academic team. In your mind, what did it take to keep that consistency in the classroom going?
The superb help and support of our student-athlete academic advisers deserve all the credit for that. Plus, my mother always placed academic success above everything else. I know it's important to her, so I strive to be the best I can be academically because I know it makes her happy.
I saw a picture of you kissing the floor on Michigan State Senior Day. What have you learned in your time at Michigan State?
A lot of life lessons that I will remember forever. MSU has helped me develop as a man both on and off the court.
Has it been hard to stay focused on school and basketball while missing your family back home, or has your aunt living down in Ann Arbor, Mich., helped during the years you've been here?
It has been tough, but my MSU family, made up of the coaches and their families and my teammates, has made it a lot easier for me to focus on school and basketball in the absence of my immediate family. I only found out that my aunt lived in Ann Arbor last fall, but she also has helped a lot in the short period that she's been present.
How hard is it to keep up with all of your work with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments going on? You've got to be used to it to some degree, right?
Yes, I am used to it by now, but planning ahead and communicating with professors and working with the student-athlete support services takes a little bit of the load off our shoulders. But we also have to find some down time to study on the road.
You're pursuing a master's in advertising and majored in telecommunications in undergrad. What's the career path you'd like to take once you graduate?
I'd like to pursue a basketball career, but after that, I'd like to work in advertising, creating commercials and advertising campaigns.
Would you like to stay here in the States for your post-basketball career, move around and see some other places, or head back home?
I'd love to go back home and visit when I can, but I want to stay here or go to wherever pro opportunities present themselves.
Last question: I know that it has to be hard to read much around this busy time of year, but what ' s the best book you've read lately?
I'm currently reading Hot, Flat , and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. It deals with globalization—its risks and rewards—and how we are vastly depleting earth's natural resources and the ways to reverse this negative trend.