Bridging The Gap
This article appears in the March 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Alief Taylor senior small forward Fendi Onobun is known to his future teammates on the Arizona men's basketball team as Fen Diesel. And rightfully so.
At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Onobun is a physical marvel whose arms would fit in perfectly on the cover of Men's Health.
Like a taller but similarly chiseled version of action star Vin Diesel, Onobun's cartoonishly muscular biceps and Herculean triceps form a perfect V shape leading toward his shoulders. And if that doesn't convince you how strong this kid is, his max bench press of 250 pounds should.
On the court, the most stunning part of Onobun's game is his ability to effectively use that strength to his advantage. Rated the nation's No. 37 recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, Onobun is known for muscling his way to the hoop with a wide array of post moves. Yet he's also adept at slashing to the basket and finishing despite contact.
"Anybody who looks at him now is amazed at how physically developed he is and how good of an athlete he is for a senior in high school," says Alief Taylor fourth-year head coach Jeff Durnford. "He's a good athlete, so you combine that with his physical strength for a high school player and he can be pretty tough to stop on the block."
The only problem Onobun sees with his physique is that his skin is too bare. Especially his arms. But it won't be that way for long if Onobun has any say in the matter.
Since turning 18 in November, Onobun has mindfully designed a tattoo that would take up the bulk of his bulky left arm — an Addams Family-inspired floating hand palming a basketball, sandwiched by the phrases "FEAR NOT" and "HOLD MY OWN."
Ironically, the only reason Onobun is still ink free is because of fear. Although, in his defense, he says it's his only one.
"In the game of basketball and life, you shouldn't be scared of anything except your father," says Onobun, who averaged 12.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and one block per game as a junior. "If I got [a tattoo], my dad would kick my butt, no lie. I might get it when I get to Arizona, though."
It's not as if his father, James Onobun, is a rabid disciplinarian. He gives Fendi a lot of freedom but simply knows when to draw the line.
"He doesn't trip about my earrings or baggy clothes because he understands the times are different now," Fendi says. "But he is strict in terms of education and taking life seriously and setting priorities."
James emigrated from Nigeria to the United States in the late 1970s to run track for Southwestern, a small school in Memphis, Tenn., that is now known as Rhodes College.
His original blueprint called for getting a degree in business and maybe working in America for a few years before returning to his homeland. But along the way, he fell in love with the United States, had Fendi and decided this country would be a better place than Nigeria to raise his first son.
More than 25 years later, James lives comfortably in the outskirts of Houston, works in management for Central Market and is happily married with three kids. But that doesn't mean he's forgotten his roots or failed to pass them along to his son.
"Fendi's a very respectful kid, and I think my Nigerian values have really translated to the way Fendi deals with people," James says. "I think Fendi has a lot of my values."
Like James, a self-professed workaholic who spends most of his days off at work, Fendi's work ethic borders on obsessive. A part-time employee at H-E-B and an honor roll student, Fendi doesn't slack in any aspect of his life.
And when it comes to basketball, he's the epitome of a gym rat.
Even after Conan O'Brien finishes his nightly routine, Fendi is often working on his game. Nearly every night during the week, Fendi spends hours playing ball in the foyer of the vacant fire department across the street from his apartment.
"I'm always hungry to get better," Fendi says. "I look at it like putting money in the bank. The day you don't put in work, you're taking money out."
These late-night practices have been known to drag on past 1:30 a.m. He usually spends the time working on his outside shot, free throws and lateral quickness, but occasionally a friend will join him for a game of one-on-one or 21.
"One of his best attributes is that he wants to be a really good player," Durnford says. "I think that's important. He puts a lot of time into improving as a player."
Not that he has much of a choice.
Fendi is considered a 'tweener, essentially meaning he's a power forward in a small forward's body. At 6-foot-7, he might be tall for high school, but the Pac-10 is a whole new ballgame. At Arizona, he'll be asked to play mostly on the perimeter, a spot on the floor he doesn't have a tremendous feel for yet.
To prepare for the next level, Fendi has spent much of his senior season roaming the perimeter after being typecast as a low-post threat for his first three years of high school.
The emergence of two-sport star Martellus Bennett — who is also one of the nation's top tight ends and signed with Texas A&M for football — as another interior option for the Lions has given Fendi a chance to get off the low block and develop his outside shot.
"At first it used to bother me," Fendi says of being labeled a 'tweener. "Now I use it to my advantage. It makes me more of a player. I'm able to do more things. The NBA is looking for people who can do different things. You can get a job from just rebounding, but I think I can do more than that."
While Fendi credits much of his success to his father, it's James who feels responsible for his son scurrying to learn a new position before college. Originally projected to grow to about 6-foot-10, James encouraged Fendi's low-post development.
Hindsight is 20/20.
"Knowing what I know now, I would have made Fendi play the one, two or three when he started basketball," James says. "Every place he played made him play in the post."
Not that Fendi is worrying. He has four more years to work on his new position before the NBA hopefully comes calling. And on those days his outside shot isn't falling, he can always rely on his power game. After all, he's not known as Fen Diesel for nothing.