Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Home from Ukraine is sweet for Hampton's Avant

When you head overseas to play basketball, the idea of being in the middle of a worn-torn country seems far fetched.

 One day last month, it became reality after practice for Hampton graduate Keiara Avant and her team, Dynamo Kiev.

"I had just finished when one of my Ukrainen teammates told me about the first bomb," said Avant, who has been back in her Chesapeake, Va., home since March 7. Avant said initially she felt secure because the violence was 15-20 minutes away from her apartment and the gym.

 But when tensions escalated, she retreated to her apartment, holing up for three days. She hit the supermarkets first, stocking up on food, water and dairy.

"All the shelves were empty," she said. "That made it real."

Inside her apartment, she watched the grim news unfold.She saw familiar places burn and violence continue. Whether through text, Facebook or Skye, she kept her family in the loop back home, assuring them she was safe. Her coach told the team to remain calm and that all would improve within a few days.

"They're not coming after you," he reminded.

"Disheartening images" from Kiev, Avant says.
Then Russian troops invaded.Crimea, and Avant realized she needed to leave. The Americans on the men's team had already left for home, one abruptly.

"I knew it was a matter of time, and I didn't want it to be too late," said Avant, one of three Americans on the team along with Nicole Michael (Syracuse) and Kimberly Williams (DePaul). Avant was the first American on her team to left; the others have since returned to the U.S. safely.

She boarded the flight from Kiev to Frankfurt Germany and then another that landed at Washington's Dulles Airport, home to family with balloons and hugs.

"It was an amazing feeling to be back on American soil," she said. "My mom and dad were there to greet me.It was the best I had felt in a while, being there to hold them in my arms."

After Avant left, Dynamo Kiev officially ended its season at 17-1, having played its last game on Feb. 14. The whole episode brought an abrupt close to what had been an enjoyable experience for Avant, who put an accounting job at KPMG on hold to pursue her love of the Russian culture and continue a decorated basketball career. She was Hampton's first Script Athlete of the Year in 2013 and MEAC Player of the Year her senior season with the Pirates, who were conference champions all four of her years. The 5-11 guard averaged 7.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 4.4 apg for Dynamo Kiev.

"I made a lot of friends, and I'm definitely praying for Ukraine," she said. "The people were so nice there, and it's hard to see them have to battle this."

She will be in attendance all week at Scope watching her Pirates defend their MEAC championship. An overseas basketball opportunity is another possibility -- "not in the Ukraine," she promises. Avant is also considering graduate school and perhaps heading directly into her accounting career.

As happy as she is to be back home, she was thrilled on Sunday when she returned to Christian Home Baptist Church in Windsor. "It felt so good to be there," she said. "I couldn't wait to get back to my church."

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