AUDIO PODCAST WITH NIVEEN RASHEED
On October 26, 2013, just over 5,000 miles away from the friendly confines of Jadwin Gymnasium, Niveen Rasheed ’13 took the floor for her third professional game. Playing for Ippokratis Kos of the Greek national league, the former Princeton University women’s basketball standout looked to build on an already strong start as her team squared off against perennial powerhouse and defending champion Panathinaikos.
“The atmosphere felt like a World Cup soccer game,” says Rasheed. “The fans were right on top of you, even grabbing your jersey. It was like [playing in] a cage.”
Unfazed, Rasheed led all scorers, pouring in 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting while also adding 13 rebounds and six steals. But despite her best efforts, Ippokratis ultimately suffered its first setback of the season (79-65).
Rasheed’s journey to Kos, a small Greek island in the southeastern Aegean Sea, began in California. Learning the game by playing against an older brother 17 years her senior, she eventually stared for Monte Vista High School in her hometown of Danville before landing in Central New Jersey.
“At first I wanted to stay in California and attend a PAC-12 school,” recalls Rasheed. “But my friend and [AAU] teammate Lauren Polansky convinced me to visit Princeton with her. I absolutely fell in love with the campus, team and coaches. It just felt right and turned out to be the best decision I made in my life.”
Arriving with Polansky in the fall of 2009, Rasheed helped preside over arguably one of the program’s most successful eras. As a freshman, she started all 29 contests, averaging 15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while leading the Tigers to a 26-3 overall record, unblemished 14-0 Ivy League mark and the team’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Going 24-5 (13-1 Ivy) despite Rasheed playing just 12 games due to injury in 2010-11, Princeton again went 24-5 (14-0 Ivy) the following season while punching its ticket to a third-straight NCAA Tournament and finishing the year ranked in the top-25.
As an encore, she helped lead the Orange & Black to a fourth-consecutive conference crown and NCAA Tournament berth in 2012-13, averaging 16.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while becoming the program’s first-ever Associated Press All-America selection. For Rasheed, it was sweet validation.
“It was the best of both worlds,” Rasheed says. “Princeton was not only the nation’s top school academically, but now we were in the top-25 [for basketball]. Above all the personal accolades, what meant the most to me were the four Ivy League championships, the four NCAA appearances and the top-25 ranking. You can never take that away from us.”
Following graduation, Rasheed turned her focus to playing at the next level. While the rest of her friends were searching for jobs, one of Princeton’s all-time greats began talking to agents and attended a WNBA combine in hopes of furthering her career.
Despite going undrafted, offers to play overseas started to trickle in over the course of the summer. Spending the next couple of months training, she weighed her options. In August, Ippokratis came calling and in a couple of short weeks Rasheed was on a plane bound for the small island in the Aegean.
“In my first year [playing professionally], I wanted to make a statement,” says Rasheed. “They told me I would be one of their main players and that they wanted to build a team around me. It sounded like a pretty good opportunity and they put me in the right position to succeed.”
Jumping straight into a two-week training camp, Rasheed quickly settled into a routine. Days would typically start at 10 a.m. for a morning shootaround. Afterwards, she’d bike to the town’s center square for coffee with teammates. After running errands and another team meal, it was back to the gym for a two-hour practice starting at 8 p.m.
After several scrimmages, the squad played in its first tournament at the end of September. In mid-October, Ippokratis began its 18-game regular season against Aris with Rasheed netting a game-high 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Narrowly missing out on a double-double, she also hauled in nine rebounds. Not a bad debut for the team’s newest import.
“Being a former college athlete, I think I was ready for the level of play,” says Rasheed. “But the European game is a different brand of basketball and there was definitely a learning curve.”
One of Rasheed’s biggest challenges was the language barrier. Even with one of her coaches translating, she’d sometimes have trouble. Her teammates weren’t fluent in English and her point guard struggled the most. Often resorting to hand signals when the mix of broken English and broken Greek failed them, Rasheed found a way to make it work.
“It was very frustrating,” Rasheed says. “At Princeton, if you didn’t talk, you didn’t play. On the court we count on hearing each other so I was a little lost at first, but you get used to it. You find a way to communicate.”
What didn’t need any translation was Rasheed’s seemingly seamless transition to the Greek league’s top division. The numbers spoke for themselves. Averaging 37.7 minutes per game, she finished second in the league in scoring (20.2 ppg), fourth in rebounding (10.1) and first in steals (2.7). Shooting 53.6 percent (133-for-248) from the floor, she connected on 78.5 (102-for-130) of her free-throw attempts, scoring in double digits in all but one game, while turning in nine double-doubles.
Behind Rasheed’s play, Ippokratis posted an 11-7 regular season record, placing fourth in just its first season in the nation’s top division. Naturally, the awards poured in for its star. Named the league’s Player of the Year, Rasheed was also the Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Co-Rookie of the Year and Co-Import Player of the Year. An All-Greek League first-team selection, she also garnered praise on the All-Defensive and the All-Import team.
Welcoming Panathinaikos to Kos in mid-January, Rasheed and Ippokratis showed the league just how far they’d come. Playing in front of a packed crowd, the home team rallied from an eight-point first quarter deficit, snapping the defending champions’ five-game win streak with a hard-fought 60-55 upset victory that avenged its early season loss. Helping to spearhead an Ippokratis defense that held Panathiaikos to just six third quarter points, Rasheed finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
“I hope it says something about me [as a player] to be able to help our team,” Rasheed says. “Playing in the first division for the first time, we went from being overlooked to becoming an established team. Beating last year’s Greek champion was one of my favorite [on court] memories. It was an awesome feeling and hopefully it reflects well on me and what I can do for a team.”
With the Greek season drawing to a close in April, Rasheed was back on campus for Reunion Weekend at the end of May. Suiting up against fellow Princetonians she participated in the team’s alumnae game before working a set of camps in June. Buoyed by a strong rookie showing, Rasheed hopes to parlay her initial success into more offers this upcoming year as she prepares to write the next chapter in an already decorated career.
“I definitely want to keep playing,” says Rasheed. “I have a good amount of offers right now, but its still pretty early. I have the option to go back to Greece which is great, so we’ll see.”