Ibaka showed up again later when the Thunder book bus visited the school, Phillips said.
He helped kids pick out books, conversing in Spanish with many students, about 70 percent of whom are Spanish-speaking.
“He was able to talk to all my kids,” Phillips said. “My teachers said it was really great.”
Success is possible
Ibaka is familiar with childhood challenges and how to overcome them. Born one of 18 children in a family in an impoverished and war-torn country, Ibaka lost his mother to natural causes when he was 8. But he endured, using his natural and developed basketball talents to make his way to America and a successful life.
Today, Ibaka, with help from a sportswear manufacturer, sponsors youth basketball camps in several African countries. In Oklahoma, he gives back when he can.
Those on the receiving end are grateful. Phillips said Ibaka's visits show kids that someone cares. It boosts morale and gives them hope that staying in school, having a dream and “plugging on” can pay off.
“It shows the kids that there are success stories, that just because we're in a high-poverty area here doesn't mean we can't make it,” she said. “It really gives them something to look forward to.”