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The Tiger

Behind the Ball: Ivy Atkism, Sirah Diarra

Courtesy of Clemson Athletics

Diarra (left) and Atkism (right) pose with another student mentee in Littlejohn Coliseum. She is one of several girls in the program.

Apart from being forwards on the Clemson women’s basketball team, senior Ivy Atkism and junior Sirah Diarra are alike in the fact that they are leaders on the court, as well as in the community. Taking part in community service projects, such as Habitat for Humanity and a mentorship program centered around elementary school kids, Atkism and Diarra have had amazing experiences at Clemson University, which they shared with The Tiger in its latest installment of “Behind the Ball.”

Tiger Sports (TS): You’ve taken part in several great community service ventures since joining the Clemson family. As of late, the Clemson women’s basketball program has gotten involved with the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home. What has that experience been like?

Ivy Atkism (IA): We took part in a Habitat for Humanity build on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service as part of the construction of the Clemson student-athlete house. To have a house like that says a lot because, despite our busy schedules, we’ve still found the time to give back, and it’s been exciting to see the house getting built.

Sirah Diarra (SD): It’s been amazing to give back to the community like we’ve been able to do. I’m looking forward to experiencing the Habitat for Humanity project myself and helping as best I can.

TS: In addition to your work with Habitat for Humanity, you both participate in a mentoring program at Ravenel Elementary School in Seneca. What has that program consisted of?

IA: We mentor four girls at Ravenel Elementary School. Typically, we visit with them at lunch or recess to discuss what’s been going on in their lives. They all have different stories and come from different backgrounds, and we talk with them about whatever they want to discuss, from school to their personal lives. It’s really helped to put life in perspective for me.

SD: Ivy and I were asked if we wanted to take part in the mentorship program, and we were happy to take it on. We’re really there to provide an example for the young girls of someone who they can follow and who has experienced some of the same things that they did while growing up.

TS: As student-athletes who have taken part in community service projects, why do you think it is important for college athletics programs to give back to the community?

IA: The Clemson community supports us and gives a lot to us, as well. Without them, we wouldn’t have a program. It’s nice to be able to give back, and it also helps to show our supporters the types of people that we are off the court. 

TS: What is your favorite community service memory

at Clemson?

SD: My favorite memories have been at Clemson basketball’s annual Winter Wonderland, when we provide gifts to local children while hanging out with them, eating with them and getting to know them. Just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces at that event and to see how happy they get when receiving their gifts makes me feel great because I know that I took part in making somebody else’s day.

TS: Why did you originally choose to attend Clemson University?

IA: The main thing for me was that it was close to home. I’m a big family person. But the people were a major factor, too. From the nice people on campus to the nice people in the community, that, combined with the beautiful campus, sold me.

SD: Being from Canada, despite coming from so far away, I knew that I’d be comfortable here when I made my first visit. The atmosphere here is incredible, and the people are really nice. There always seems to be somebody willing to help me with whatever I need here.

TS: As a veteran on the team, what is your approach to leadership?

IA: I think that everyone can lead; they just do so in different ways. For me, it’s not always vocal. I just try to lead by example through the way that I live my life because a lot of people don’t want to follow someone who says the right thing but doesn’t do the right thing. Therefore, I feel like if I do the right thing, people will follow me.

TS: This team seems to be really close-knit. Has that been one of the best aspects of playing for Clemson?

SD: We’ve come a long way. This year is the closest that we’ve ever been since I’ve been here. We’re all here for each other, and I just think that it’s great to know that I can count on my teammates, no matter what. That’s something that’s really great about our group. We have each other’s backs.

TS: This team has shown steady improvement in recent years. What has ultimately contributed to that?

IA: I think that the buy-in from players who wanted to be better led to it. When I first got here, we had a great group, but we were very young. So it’s been nice to see the progression from my freshman year to my senior year. The change came when players decided to go the extra mile to get better, and I think that if the ones who come in after this keep that mindset of wanting to work hard, then the improvement will continue.

TS: What do you hope to see this team, as well as yourself, accomplish for the remainder of your Clemson career?

SD: We just need to continue buying in to what the coaches say and keep working hard. For myself, I want to continue to grow as a person and improve at how I respond to making mistakes. For the team as a whole, I’m confident that if everybody continues working hard, we can accomplish great things.

TS: What has it been like to play for head coach Audra Smith and her staff?

IA: It’s been great. They’re full of life. They definitely push us to our limits and, then, past our limits. At the end of the day, I’ll be able to look back and say that I learned a lot from these coaches in terms of basketball and life in general.

TS: What has the game of basketball meant to you throughout your life?

SD: The game of basketball has always been my escape that has allowed me to clear my head. When I’m playing, I don’t have to focus on extraneous stuff from my life; I can just focus on the task at hand.

TS: What are your aspirations for life after basketball?

IA: I’m still trying to decide. I think that I’m going to try to become a women’s basketball graduate assistant. If I decide that I’m ready to leave basketball altogether, then I’m going to take part in an accelerated nursing program in order to become a labor and delivery nurse.

SD: I’m definitely going to go to graduate school because school is something that’s really important to me. I’m going to try to get a master’s in a couples’ and family therapy program. My main goal after basketball is to become a counselor or therapist. 

TS: What is your favorite aspect of being a Clemson athlete?

IA: I love the diversity that comes with being an athlete here because you see all walks of life in Clemson athletics, yet we all come together to love and support each other.

SD: It’s amazing how sports could bring so many different types of people together. To be a part of a family like this has been great. We all watch other teams play and make friends on other teams. It’s amazing.

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