The team comes before you for Koker

Araya Venegas

Then-freshman Chelby Koker takes the ball downfield in the Huskies’ Jan. 15 loss to Kent State University at the Convocation Center in 2020. (Araya Venegas/Northern Star)

Junior guard Chelby Koker of the NIU women’s basketball team is the most encouraging and passionate player a team could ask for.

Koker grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, about 119 miles north of DeKalb. She is the youngest of three siblings. Her older siblings were into sports, which led her to play sports at a young age.

“I was on my brother’s basketball team in kindergarten because they didn’t have enough players,” Koker said. “My dad told me to be ready and bring my stuff, and the next thing I knew I was in the game.”

Cross the Illinois-Wisconsin border

Years later, Koker is the starting point guard for the NIU Huskies. She chose to come to NIU because she liked talking to the coaches, who made her feel comfortable. Head coach Lisa Carlsen is the one who recruited her.

“I loved how she played with pace and pushed the ball on the floor, and that’s what we’re looking for in our next playmaker,” Carlsen said. “We need someone who could score at all three levels and that’s what we have and more.”

Carlsen spoke about how important Koker was to the team as they put the ball in his hands and trusted him to make decisions. Koker has a lot of responsibility, but she wants that responsibility because she knows what the team needs to win.

“Chelby is a person who spends a lot of time honing his skills,” Carlsen said. “She’s in the gym all the time and studying film to see what other teams are trying to do defensively against her.”

Carlsen describes Koker as a student of the game who works daily to become a great player.

Koker improved individually by scoring in basketball at all three levels. She took a big leap from her freshman to her sophomore year, increasing her points-per-game average from 8.2 to 21.1. With three years of college experience under her belt, she has a great understanding of the Mid-American Conference and the needs of the team.

Koker said the most important thing she thinks about before participating in games is to think things through. She thinks about how she can take care of the ball and land good shots for herself and her teammates.

My dad told me to be ready and bring my stuff, and the next thing I knew I was in the game.

— Junior guard Chelby Koker

Her teammate and best friend, Paulina Castro, has expressed what kind of teammate Koker is.

“She’s a leader on the pitch in terms of how she always has the ball in her hands, which leads her teammates to be in a good position on the pitch,” Castro said. “She leads by example by putting in so much work and encourages others to get into the gym with her.”

Although Koker is a great basketball player, basketball is not the main focus. She specializes in pre-physical therapy and will apply for the masters program before graduating and becoming a physical therapist is the goal.

“I don’t know if playing basketball overseas or professionally is the thing I want to do right now,” Koker said. “It’s something I’m open to if the opportunity arises.”

Koker and Castro make tie-dye sets and wear them to home games in his spare time. They started making tie-dye sets during quarantine and people quickly showed interest in buying theirs. They would start their business “P&Chel DIYs” and sell them.

She says her favorite players are Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry.

Koker’s role model growing up was Ray Lin D’Alie. D’Alie went to the University of Wisconsin and coached at one of the first clubs Koker attended when she was younger. The main reason she admired her was that she was from Wisconsin, just like her.

Junior guard Chelby Koker drives the ball past Akron freshman forward Raegan Bass in Monday’s win at DeKalb. Koker surpassed 1,000 career points against the Zips in a 79-67 win on Jan. 24. (Zulfiqar Ahmad)

Koker hit the 1,000 point milestone on January 24 in a home game against the University of Akron. “I feel blessed to have reached this milestone and want to thank my teammates and the coaching staff for putting me in a position to get to where I am today.” She currently has 1,036 points.

Although Koker is thinking about winning MAC Player of the Year, her team’s wins are more important to her.

“It’s a goal to win MAC Player of the Year, but I want to win the MAC Championship for the team,” Koker said. “If I were to win MAC Player of the Year, I would be honored and blessed, but I’m not going to let that get into my head. I want to play and win games.

Koker suffered a season-ending knee injury in Wednesday’s game against Kent State University and will be out for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. She averaged 17.8 points per game, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Koker will return for his senior season, continue to improve his game and hope to turn the Huskies into championship contenders.