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Former Arizona forward Maya Nnaji addresses her decision to step away from basketball

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 07 Women’s - UC San Diego at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Maya Nnaji came to Arizona, she was the highest-rated recruit in Wildcat women’s basketball history. However, it was well known that a major reason she chose to come to Tucson was the Accelerated Pathway to Medical Education program at the University of Arizona. The APME program reduces the time to get a medical degree to seven years. Despite her talents on the court, Nnaji’s goal in life was not professional basketball. It was healing people.

Nnaji has decided that she needs to focus on that goal. She did not attend Arizona’s game against Texas on Wednesday. Afterward, head coach Adia Barnes explained that the sophomore was not with the team and would be focusing on her academics. Nnaji finally addressed the issue via social media on Friday.

“In light of recent events, it has become clear to me that I need to reprioritize my main goal and true life’s purpose: becoming a physician. With the support of my family and guidance from Above, I am stepping away from basketball to start a new chapter of my life,” Nnaji wrote on Instagram.

Nnaji instructed fans to “refrain from entertaining any speculation from outside sources.”

After Wednesday’s loss, Barnes explained that Nnaji was having difficulty balancing the demands of both school and basketball. She was missing labs, shadowing, and internships in her academic program while also not being around for some basketball activities.

“I knew she was going to that program when she got here, so I have to support what she’s doing because her dreams and aspirations are to be a doctor,” Barnes said.

While Barnes said Wednesday that Nnaji might return sometime in the future, her tone of voice made it sound unlikely. Nnaji is still listed on the Arizona roster, but her social media statement also makes it appear unlikely that she will return to the court.

Nnaji’s decision to focus on academics leaves the Wildcats with just ten active players, including recently added forward Erin Tack. While Tack has been awarded a scholarship, she was initially a walk-on. She has been injured since shortly after joining the team.

Despite their low numbers, Arizona gave No. 5 Texas a run for its money on Wednesday. A period late in the second quarter and just after halftime doomed them, but the Wildcats held with the Longhorns in the first and fourth quarters and made a late push to make the score more respectable.

UA now moves on to face Arizona State on Sunday before taking on Gonzaga on Wednesday, Dec. 20.