Long Reach senior forward Obi Ukwuoma has thrived in his role as the Lightning's team leader and go-to player, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds this season. Ukwuoma, 6 feet 4, was primed for the responsibility. During his sophomore year, he was called up to the varsity before the team's state championship playoff run, getting experience in what it takes to win a title. And last season, when senior standout Michael Bowden went down with an early injury, Ukwuoma stepped up to take a lead role and earn first-team all-county honors.
Ukwuoma maintains a 3.4 grade point average and plans to study engineering. He is undecided on a college, but is considering the Naval Academy, Wheeling and the University of Buffalo.
When he wants to relax, he watches reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Ukwuoma has three younger sisters - twins Dayna and Diane are in 10th grade and Angelica is in seventh grade.
What has been the key to the team's fast start?
It's a good beginning for us. We have a new player, Deon Queen, who transferred from Chesapeake [Anne Arundel] and helped us because he's a true point guard in that he can pass and he can also score. We have other players up from junior varsity that I played with in the 10th grade, so the bond is already there. Also, we play defense. Coach stresses it in practice: defense, defense, defense. We practice defense nonstop, beginning to end - it's always intense. And we have no weak links. One through 12, nobody is weak.
As the go-to player that every team tries to shut down, how big is it to have such a strong supporting cast this season?
It's good because teams can't just focus on me - it's the whole team they have to focus on. If they try to lock down on me, I have other people to pass it to and I know they are going to score just as well.
Do you see any similarities between this year's team and the state championship team in your sophomore year?
Oh, yeah. We play together. Everybody knows their role, knows what they have to do on the court, knows how to get it done, and we play defense like they played. They played hard in practice every day - no days off. Even though they kept winning, they knew people were coming after them, so they worked harder in practice and got better each and every day. That's what we're trying to do - get better every day.
How valuable was that experience, winning a state championship in your sophomore year?
It was great. I just took it and soaked it all in because I knew I wanted to get back there with my team. They played hard, did everything well. And when they were in the state championship game, they were down. But you just knew they would come back and win because it was like our destiny to win that year.
What is your role as a team captain?
Being a captain, you have to make sure everybody does their job in the classroom as well as on the court. We can't have people messing up in the classroom, so my responsibility is to try to keep them straight in the classroom as well as on the court. I try to make sure we play hard all the time - each and every possession like it's our last.
What is the biggest satisfaction you get from playing basketball?
Winning. Winning (smiles). That's what I play for. I don't care if I score two points or 25 points, I just want to win. That's what it's all about.
What was the best moment you enjoyed on the basketball court?
Winning states in my 10th-grade year. That was a great experience. We got to play at Comcast [Center], got to be in the locker room. It felt great, and when we won, we were jumping all over the court. Right then, I knew I had to get back to that point, so I was going to work as hard as I could to get back.
Who would you consider your role model?
Michael Jordan. I read his book a couple times, and he was a relentless worker. He came into practice two hours before it began just shooting around. He always wanted to win, and he had that never-say-die attitude. I love that about him. When I'm out on the court, I try to think what he would do in the same situation.
What was the strongest message you got from his book?
There was a lot of neat things, but I'd say mainly to never give up because when he got cut from the basketball team, he could have given up. And also his perseverance - he never wanted to lose and would always work harder to beat the next guy.
How did you get interested in engineering?
I've always liked hands-on work. When I was younger, if the TV was broken, my parents would come to me, and I could fix it. It was pretty fun.
What is one thing that nobody knows about you?
That I really do get along with my sisters sometimes (laughs). I know I have to set an example for them - tell them what to do and what not to do. I know my grades have to be good, so theirs will be, too.