Growing up in New Jersey, junior Afreyea Tolbert was very close to her family. Her father would always walk her to school and give her 100 kisses all over her face when he came home from work.
After traveling 755 miles from home to come to the College of Charleston and adjusting to a new environment, Tolbert has found another family with the CofC women's basketball team.
Tolbert grew up in dance, gymnastics and karate, but it was her father, Harun, who introduced her to the game of basketball.
When the family moved to New Jersey, her brother played in a recreational league. There was also a girl's league, in need of coaches, so Tolbert's father volunteered to coach and asked his daughter to play.
"My father instilled a work ethic that has made me the person and student-athlete I am today," Tolbert said.
Tolbert went to clinics and started to learn the game of basketball. At first, her biggest strength was her rebounding, because she could jump a lot higher than the other girls. As she got better and more skilled, she went to more clinics and started playing for an AAU team, working towards a basketball scholarship.
Tolbert went to a public school her first year, then transferred to St. Mary High School, a private Catholic School where everyone wore uniforms. Tolbert thrived on the court and in the classroom as she averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4 steals per game, while maintaining a 3.5 grade point average.
Tolbert was recruited by a number of schools and decided on Northeastern to start her college education and basketball development. After two years, things weren't going as she had planned and she transferred to a junior college and did not play basketball for a year.
"After Northeastern I needed time for myself to figure out what I wanted to do, and if I wanted to continue in basketball," she said. "It was a really big year for me. My family encouraged me to do whatever made me happy. Without playing basketball that year, it made me realize how much I missed it."
It was then that Tolbert visited the College of Charleston, where she connected with the coaching staff and team and decided to make the difficult decision to move away from her family and comfortable surroundings.
Tolbert also had classes that she had to take over the summer in order to be able to transfer and be eligible to play for the basketball team.
With the stress of trying to understand what the coaches wanted from her and adjusting to life in Charleston without access to her family there were hard times. Tolbert went through a stretch from mid-late January this season, where in three games she played just eight minutes combined and scored zero points. The Cougars went winless in those three games.
"It was difficult for me with all the change and getting used to new people and a new place," Tolbert said. "I feel like over time I have adjusted well and things are finally starting to come together. I think having the basketball team and support system helped a lot in the transition."
As Tolbert grew more comfortable, she stopped trying to analyze every little detail and went out and practiced and played to the best of her ability.
On February 4, Tolbert's hard work was rewarded as the coaches tabbed her a starter for the first time this season. She responded with a double-double: 14 points and 12 rebounds as the Cougars beat UNCG 63-43.
Tolbert shined in the Cougars' most recent victory as she scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 74-71 win on the road at Davidson. It was the third time in the history of the program the Cougars had beaten Davidson on the road and the Cougars win snapped the Wildcats six-game winning streak and gave them just their second conference loss of the season.
In the Cougars' last four games, including three victories Tolbert has scored 58 points and grabbed 34 rebounds, playing an average of 27 minutes per game. Tolbert is currently the fourth leading scorer on the team.
"Her approach to this transition, showed a determination and a strong will in her, and that competitive edge," CofC head coach Natasha Adair said. "She has worked hard and is a key contributor to our team and now we are starting to see all the fruits of her labor pay off."
Tolbert said she has enjoyed her time in Charleston and bonding with her teammates and coaches. Among her favorite activities outside of basketball is eating. With so many choices of restaurants she lists Coast as her favorite.
Tolbert said she has learned a lot in her short time in Charleston and is having fun being part of a family that is working hard toward a common goal.
"I feel like from preseason the coaches set a standard in believing in ourselves and that we are good enough," she said. "I think that's been permeating through the entire team and everyone is buying in and contributing. We are starting to believe in ourselves and the coaching staff. We have learned a lot and have come a long way and we know if we stick together we will be successful."
"I don't think we have seen the best of Afreyea Tolbert yet," Adair said. "I know the best is yet to come. It is going to be fun watching her down the stretch as she continues her career here. I'm proud of her work, her dedication and wanting to be better."