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THE CRUISE DIRECTOR
Before the season, Notre Dame players and staff took a test that identified personality types with different colors. The only player to get the "gold" designation—indicating a craving for organization and structure—was Achonwa. Says coach Muffet McGraw, a fellow gold, "She's the kind of kid who kept a calendar even when we were recruiting her. Now she'll say, 'In September [I'll be traveling with] the Canadian team and I might have to miss a week of class.' She's just on top of things."
The tidiness of Achonwa's locker would make Felix Unger weep—"I think her shirts are organized by color," says junior forward Ariel Braker—and her time-management skills are so honed that in between basketball and her business studies Achonwa has squeezed in a teaching assistantship in a class on innovation. She also has the mental space to keep track of how to counter an upcoming opponent's defensive strategy and where teammates are supposed to be on the floor during certain sets. "She is the one person I always hear talking on the court, making sure we know there's a screen," says Braker.
Achonwa does a few quantifiable things, too. Although she is undersized for a post player (at 6'3" she is the tallest on the Irish roster), her 9.3 rebounds ranked second in the conference, and her 2.4 assists and 13.8 points were second and third on the team, respectively. "She's a great face-up player and a really good passer, and that's important in our offense, because the center is like a point guard," says McGraw.
A native of Guelph, Ont., Achonwa developed her versatility during the two years she spent at Canada's now defunct National Elite Development Academy outside Toronto. "In our system, everyone was a guard, no matter how tall you were," she says. "Everyone cut, everyone screened, everyone passed." Early in her career at Notre Dame, Achonwa sat on the bench and noted the contributions of frontline players such as Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters. "I incorporated the grit and physicality of Becca and Devereaux's athleticism, agility and quick thinking," she says.
With her confidence boosted by a summer spent as the youngest member of the Canadian Olympic team, Achonwa joined the Irish's starting lineup last fall and then roughly doubled her rebounding and scoring averages from last season. "She made a huge jump," says McGraw. "She's more assertive and really playing a big role for us."
Along the way Achonwa has developed a fluid on-court connection with Diggins. "They have an innate sense of what the other one is going to do," says McGraw. The most recent example: With the Big East tournament championship game tied at 59 with 12 seconds to go, Diggins stole a UConn pass, dribbled through traffic and found Achonwa alone under the basket for the winning layup and Notre Dame's first Big East tournament title. For Achonwa, finding a void and filling it paid off, again.