The outlook looked bright for Alief (TX) Taylor High School junior forward phenom Fendi Onobun and his teammates. Their varsity squad in the 2002-03 season was comprised of nine juniors and four sophomores, all returning and expected to do big things this year. For his part, Onobun led the team as a sophomore with 14 points and six rebounds per game, and in that first year of varsity ball he earned First Team All-District honors. Onobun enjoyed a wildly successful spring and summer on the AAU circuit and in individual camps. He was as excited as could be to start this banner junior year at Taylor HS.
"I want to play the best I can," he told The Bootleg this past fall. "I want to make my teammates better, and I want to take more leadership. This should be our year. I've been working really hard and feel it could all fall in place for us."
Fast forward to today, where Onobun's team is 15-12 and struggling mightily. The team's frontcourt prowess forced early opponents to zone Taylor on defense, and the offensive response has been ugly. Zone defenses have now become the staple, and answers are yet to be found. Loses have brought frustration for members of the team, and that combined with some immaturity has seen four varsity players leave the team - two were critical starters. Three kids have already been bumped up from the junior varsity squad, but the bleeding continues.
It's a rough go for Onobun, who wanted to be a big contributor and big leader this year for his school. His scoring and rebounding have not increased over his sophomore year, with current averages of 14 points and seven boards, though the numbers are good considering the low scores and small numbers of possessions in the games. More specifically, Onobun is taking his game outside as he aims to help his team bust these zones.
That plan is not a completely knee-jerk reaction, however. The 6'7" combo forward was already working on his perimeter game this summer, looking to round himself into a more complete offensive player. He is already a fantastic defender and a bruising dominator on the low block. The perimeter/high post game is something he is still transitioning toward this year, both for himself and his coach.
"Zones are killing us, and I have wanted to attack the zone from another angle than with my back to the basket," Onobun explains. In late December his coach capitulated and let him play a little outside. Onobun hit two of four three-pointers and has been working an inside-outside game since.
"I proved to him that I can handle the ball and can shoot the three," the player opines. "So he let's me do that. These times are tough for our team, but I also see it as an opportunity to play more outside as a real three-man and work on that aspect of my game. I have more opportunities to face, shoot and create."
Don't be surprised if Onobun succeeds at this role, because he has succeeded at every other stage of his basketball development. He has earned a national reputation with Hal Pastner's Houston Hoops squad on the AAU circuit, and Onobun earned an invite to last year's NBPA camp. You might recall that the NBPA camp hosted the top 100 high school basketball players in the country last June - most of which were seniors. To be a junior invite at the camp was a truly elite honor.
"It was pretty good - gave me the opportunity to see where I stand nationally and what to work on," Onobun says of the camp experience in Virginia. "It made me realize how much harder I have to work. That was the best camp I've ever done. What separates you is how hard you work."
This junior forward also has to work twice as hard to prove to doubters that he can play the power forward at the college level. At 6'7" he might be a guard/wing in some offenses today, but seeing is believing with this kid. He plays much bigger than 6'7" with his great leaping abilities, and he has the strength of a 6'9" player two years his senior.
To wit, Onobun earned scholarship offers from Texas and Arizona before he ever laced up to start this junior season. He has heavy national interest from that pair plus UCLA, Connecticut, Kansas, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Louisville, Houston, Florida State, Marquette and Stanford. Onobun has consistently maintained Stanford and Arizona as his co-leader schools, and he currently says that his top six include those two plus UCLA, Texas, UConn and Kansas. But the savvy recruit is quick to point out that he is still open to all comers that have not yet jumped on his wagon.
"My options are open right now," he proclaims. "I like seeing what's opening up for me."
For Cardinal fans, know that Onobun is every bit the hardworker in the classroom as he is on the hardwood. He carries a 3.6 GPA on a 4.0 scale at Taylor HS, and he is high on Stanford for their education as much as their hoops.
"With Stanford, you could make it either way - academically or athletically," he allows. "I work just as hard in the classroom as on the basketball court; I try for all A's all the time."
Onobun would like to take official visits this winter or spring, but that of course requires posting a standardized test score on the SAT or ACT. He has asked that his test date be kept private, so that reporters and coaches do not hound him for a score, but he is putting himself in a position where he will be able to take those visits when the time comes.
He has already taken unofficial visits to Tucson to see co-leader Arizona, but Onobun is adamant about wanting to get out to Stanford in the coming months as well.
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