Final Four vet Eissa returns to Cleveland, this time as a Viking

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Jannah Eissa clearly enjoyed her last trip to Cleveland – as a member of NC State’s Final Four team in April – so much so, in fact, that she decided to stay significantly longer on her subsequent visit by announcing her transfer commitment to Cleveland State on Tuesday.  

She becomes the Vikings’ third portal addition of the offseason, following Mya Moore (Seattle) and Macey Fegan (Toledo), though it’s largely inaccurate to say that the 5-8 guard “follows” anyone. 

A devout Muslim, Eissa made headlines last season when she was the first player in ACC history, and one of a small number nationally, to wear a hijab during competition. She eventually became the second to wear the head covering in the NCAA Tournament as well. The modesty practice has long been subject to bans that have only recently started to loosen; FIBA, for example, only began allowing hijabs during games in 2017. 

Eissa embraces her role as a highly-visible trailblazer, and eventually, a group of Muslim girls coalesced at Wolfpack games last season to cheer her on. 

“I’d love to say I was a role model to them. Never thought I could be a role model for someone I didn’t know,” she told the Associated Press in March. “I never knew one person could make such an impact. They were young girls, and girls my age, looking up to me and I was so happy.” 

“If they see someone giving them hope, I’m happy that I’m the person to give it to them. I want to make it as far as I can for the image of women in hijabs.” 

Awkwardly, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan fell during March Madness, which meant that Eissa had to fast from sunrise to sunset during many of the Wolfpack’s most important games. After skipping the pregame meal ahead of a 2:30 tip time, she saw action in NCSU’s first-round win over Chattanooga. Later on, for evening contests, Eissa would have food brought to the bench once she was allowed to eat. 

Though she’s largely defined by her religion to many people, that’s only one of the compelling facets of Eissa’s story. 

A native of Cairo, Egypt, she enjoyed a successful youth career in her home country, including a stint on the youth national team, as well as a U16 national championship and a pair of FIBA 3×3 national championships, at the U16 and U18 levels. She graduated from Greenland International School in Giza before moving to the United States. 

Her father earned a PhD in chemical engineering from NC State, and two older sisters also attended the school, so it was only natural for Eissa to follow the trio to Raleigh and major in chemical engineering. There was just one fairly significant problem: the Wolfpack had not offered her a basketball scholarship, and she wanted to keep playing. 

That meant that she had to try out as a walk-on last September and, according to an outstanding Eissa feature written by Lindsay Gibbs of Power Plays, that process involved a 25-minute scrimmage with male practice players, with the NCSU coaching staff watching closely. She ultimately earned her spot on the team a mere two weeks before the season started. 

As might be expected with a freshman walk-on in a program with national title aspirations, Eissa played sparingly. Her only points of the season came on a late three-pointer against Charlotte in NCSU’s November 7th opener, though she also saw time on ten other occasions, including that NCAA Tournament win over Chattanooga and an ACC Tournament semifinal victory against Florida State. 

Gibbs’ feature noted that Eissa, despite her membership in what’s decidedly an NC State family, “does consider transferring to a school where she could get an athletic scholarship and more playing time.” Those thoughts became reality on April 20th – less than a month after the story was published and a couple weeks after the Wolfpack’s season concluded in the national semifinals – when Eissa entered the portal. 

The Vikings’ roster, thanks to their most recent and, arguably, most intriguing addition, now sits at 14 players, including nine returners, the aforementioned three transfers, and freshmen Sarah Hurley and Brenae Jones-Grant. 

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