13 February 2016

From Orange to Orange For Arinze Onuaku

Orangeman Arinze Onuaku
Arinze Onuaku easily qualified as a legitimate import in the PBA and drastically improved in his stint in various leagues around the world. His positive development in social initiatives and on the court are the main reasons Onuaku, who was born in the United States and is of Nigerian descent, could be the savior that the Bolts are looking for.

He is one of the largest imports in the Commissioner's Cup at 6-foot-9 inches and 255 pounds. The Insider Hoops ranked him as the 13th best high school center in the country in 2005.

"He’s a big body with soft hands and good footwork," said Tim Jaeger, Onuaku’s coach at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. "He sees the floor pretty well. He’s a fun player for other kids to play with."

His mother, Nwaneka Onuaku, said the family prays morning, afternoon and night every day. Before leaving for Episcopal, Onuaku spent a number of years as an altar boy and as a member of the church choir.

But Onuaku and his three siblings had no trouble convincing their parents to allot time for sports. While their father casually played soccer growing up in Nigeria, they got their athletic ability primarily from their mother.

Nwaneka, also a native Nigerian, was a track star in high school. She earned many gold medals (‘and only one silver,’ she insisted) in the 220-, 440-, and 880-meter races. Her awards litter the family’s basement. She also terrorized opponents on the handball pitch.

"It all started with me," she proudly boasted. "I’m the one."

Older sister Ifeoma introduced the family to basketball.

"I guess they saw me playing ball and they wanted to play ball, too," said Ifeoma, who averaged 4.9 points as a reserve last season for the Rattlers. "That’s how my little brothers picked it up. They just saw me.

"That was also another way of keeping them out the streets."

Onauku's father moved to the United States in 1973 when he was 13 to attend school. He married Onauku's mother, Nwaneka, in a traditional Nigerian wedding in 1982. They renewed their vows in a 1983 church wedding in America after she followed him across the Atlantic. Ifeoma was born shortly thereafter.

Among the family, only Christopher has returned to Africa. He’s traveled back three or four times, once to bring his wife to America. He and Nwaneka long for the day their children get the opportunity make the trip. Most of Onuaku's family still lives in Nigeria.

"Each year I say we are going to go, but we always have problems coming up with the funds," Christopher said. "As soon as I can get the money, I will take (Arinze and his siblings) to see their real home.

"I want them to meet my people. They are all dying to see them."

In the meantime, Onauku’s parents made sure he and his siblings knew at least a little about their ancestry. They even taught their children to speak a few words of their tribe's language – Ibo.

In addition to learning about his culture, Onauku picked up basketball in the fourth grade. He also ran track for two years and played baseball for one in middle school. Even though his grades were down, they were high enough to maintain a position on the football team his junior year at Episcopal after transferring from Duval.

Onuaku would have played on the gridiron again if not for an injury he suffered on the basketball court in 2005. During an American Athletic Union game for the DC Assault, he felt pain in one of his knees. It turned out to be tendonitis, an injury that never fully heals. He insists the injury is not a factor anymore, although his mother said it ‘comes and goes.’

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