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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Playing for an audience of one

    Fendi Onobuns tattoo says Never Take For Granted God-Given Opportunities.
    Fendi Onobun’s tattoo says “”Never Take For Granted God-Given Opportunities.””

    Fendi Onobun stood in the Arizona men’s basketball locker room after the Wildcats’ win over Florida Atlantic on Monday night, his 22nd birthday, with his head down and his eyes locked on his torso. He took two fingers and ran them down the No. 1 on the front of his jersey, then looked up.

    “”Let me show you my locker,”” he said, twisting the combination lock until the right door swung open, then to the left. Shirts and pants hung in the locker, cohabiting with sneakers and the like. On top of a shelf was an assortment of toiletries and personal items.

    A piece of white tape was stuck to the edge of the shelf with marker written on it, reading: “”Audience of One Col 3:23,”” referring to the Bible verse in Colossians which reads, “”Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.””

    Onobun bit his bottom lip and smiled.

    “”That basically means work hard, but work as if you’re working for Christ, or working for God, and not for man,”” he said. “”Regardless of the situation, you’ve got to give it your all and go hard.””

    For the past three seasons Onobun has worn No. 24 on his Arizona jersey. But in those three years, the 6-foot-6, 249-pound forward has been hindered by a lack of playing time – he played in just 51 of 98 games – and statistical production, and injuries. His new No. 1 also signifies leaving the past behind and starting fresh for his senior season.

    This season he won’t play solely for his mother, Jolene Onobun, who reads about her son in online newspapers. He won’t play for the rest of his family and closest friends back home in Houston, and the Wildcat faithful in McKale Center won’t be his main focus, either.

    “”I changed my number because I believe I’m only playing for an audience of one,”” Onobun said. “”I’m a real spiritual, religious guy. It just keeps me focused and motivated, and this is a God-given opportunity.””

    Religion isn’t something Onobun has recently found. For years he has had a tattoo on his right bicep of a cross with the words “”Never Take For Granted God-Given Opportunities”” around it. But this devout Christian has been thinking a lot lately about the past, present and future – about what can be seen and what can’t be seen. When he attends Lighthouse Church International on Sundays, Pastor Jesse West gets him thinking.

    When he’s on the court, his coaches and teammates get him thinking about his role of being a huge inside presence, the team’s designated screener and now a starter.

    “”Coach (Mike) Dunlap was telling me, ‘You’ve got to be comfortable on the court. You’ve got to relax and let the game come to you,'”” Onobun said.

    For the coaches, Onobun must not overanalyze situations.

    “”I want to keep it real simple for him – not that he’s not an intelligent kid. In fact, he’s an unbelievable student for us,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”But it’s just that he overthinks.””

    This past summer Onobun went to Fort Collins, Colo., to think about sports and God together at the Athletes in Action Sports Ministry camp.

    “”I learned a lot of stuff over there, spiritually,”” Onobun said. “”It really motivated me, just to kind of get it out of the way. Audience of one.””

    When he returned to Tucson, Onobun decided he wanted to change his number for God, but freshman center Jeff Withey had already claimed it. He tried to talk Withey out of the number, but was unsuccessful.

    But when Withey requested a transfer from the UA and quit practicing with the team in late October, Onobun seized the opportunity and approached Pennell about wearing the number Lute Olson didn’t allow his players to wear, as he insisted it was a sign of selfishness.

    “”It wasn’t to be that he was No. 1, but just that, ‘Hey, forget about the fans, forget about everything else, I’m going to try to honor God with my play,'”” Pennell said. “”And I thought that was pretty cool.””

    In two games this season, Onobun has collected 4 rebounds, 2 points, 2 assists and a steal in 31 minutes. While his numbers aren’t earth-shattering, it’s his leadership, presence on the court, and the fact that his dedication to God is encouraging him to put forth his greatest effort that are the most important to the team.

    A whiteboard hangs in McKale Center full of inspirational quotes posted by UA athletes. The one posted by Onobun is by the late Erma Bombeck, who was an author and newspaper columnist: “”When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'””

    This season Onobun will use everything he’s been given with just one purpose in mind.

    “”I play for the Man upstairs,”” Onobun said. “”It keeps me sane.””

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