March 25, 2022
By: Saso Nady
Meral Ashraf Abdelgawad started playing basketball at age five, not knowing what or how her journey would unfold. Ashraf began her career at Al Shams Sporting Club in Cairo, where her family resides. Over the years, she participated in many national tournaments with her team, where she developed her basketball skills and grew a strong sense of competitiveness and willingness to win. “We would also come in 2nd or 3rd place in many championships, which was disappointing at times, but it made me want to work harder every day,” Ashraf said.
Even though many people saw potential in Meral’s career, her first encounter with the National Team was not what she had hoped for. “I joined the Egyptian National Team when I was 16, but was immediately let go after the first elimination round. I didn’t let that get to me and just put my head down and kept putting in the work. A few months later, I was asked to join the National Team again in preparation for the U16 African Tournament. I had made it farther this time, until one week before the tournament started when I found out I still didn’t make it as a finalist.”
Ashraf had dreams of representing Egypt one day, and she knew the chance would come, eventually. Her biggest supporters were her parents who believed in her. Their confidence in her and her abilities reflected on her, even when other people didn’t see it. Two years later, after countless hours of hard work and patience, Meral turned her story around when she played for the National Team in the U18 African Championship in Cairo Stadium. In addition to the team coming in second place and Ashraf dominating the tournament and winning Most Valuable Player (MVP), she also built a name for herself where everyone witnessed how talented a player she is. “It was so special, and that feeling that all my hard work didn’t go to waste was valuable,” she said.
Meral’s journey was only upwards from there. She left her international mark in the U19 World Cup in 2016, where she was the leading scorer among her team and second in scoring in the overall rankings. When Ashraf was offered a basketball scholarship to continue her athletic and academic careers in the U.S, she was firmly against the idea of leaving home. It wasn’t until she saw another Egyptian player (Raneem Elgedawy) going to the U.S. and joining the WKU team that she decided to also accept an offer from Western Kentucky University in Louisville and playing for their team, WKU. She had already spent two years studying at Cairo University.
Having just finished her senior season at WKU, Ashraf said, “looking back at it now, it was the best decision of my life, and I’m so glad I took the risk.” Ashraf will leave as one of the top players ever played at WKU’s basketball team. When asked about her experience and how she navigated the transition, she said, “I enjoyed every second of playing with this team. The first year was the hardest, and it had lots of ups and downs for me. But stepping on the basketball court always made me forget about everything, including the hardships, challenges, and homesickness.”
Among her other positive experiences was how she was able to meet new people and make new friendships. Outside of the basketball court, Ashraf’s experience abroad made her independent in many aspects of her life, something she is very grateful for.
Concluding her college career as the Top 25 in the U.S. in six different basketball statistical categories; with many recognitions from C-USA Conference Division I Basketball; scoring more than 1,000 points, and receiving many awards, there’s no doubt Meral had built a legacy for herself. “I am very grateful to my coach, teammates, and everyone at WKU who cheered on her, welcomed me from day one and supported me in challenging days. They are my second family, I love and appreciate everyone, and I will miss playing at WKU,” Ashraf concluded.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Sports management this coming May, Ashraf still hasn’t decided if she will be going back to WKU for her last year of eligibility to play basketball or start her professional playing career in Egypt.
WKU Athletics featured Meral in a beautifully written article about her memorable journey. Read it here: More Than A Moment.
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