“Onobun, Hill lead big men in frontcourt”

Lance Madden

He’s built like a linebacker, has the smile of a child and the patience of a saint.

After three years of under-accomplishment and the contemplation of a transfer from Arizona, this is finally Fendi Onobun’s year to shine.

The 6-foot-6, 249-pound forward out of Houston, Texas, unselfishly came out of his redshirt his freshman year when Jawann McClellan broke his wrist midseason. He averaged less than 10 minutes over 16 games.

As a sophomore he played just 60 minutes. Las season he partially broke a finger, suffered from a stress fracture in October and had some tardiness issues early on. He averaged 8.8 minutes per game over 21 games, including his first and only career start.

After having surgery in April to place a rod in his leg, and running on an underwater treadmill in the offseason, Onobun is prepared his role this season. As UA interim head coach Russ Pennell put it, “”Fendi is my designated screener.””

“”I told Chase (Budinger), “”If you want the ball, you better come off my side,'”” the senior said. “”I take a joy in setting screens and getting our guys open. I really do enjoy that.””

While Onobun is setting screens near the perimeter, fellow big man Jordan Hill will provide a significant presence on the inside. The main qualm with Hill this season is getting the junior to guard without fouling as much as he has in the past – he averaged more than three fouls per game last season.

But Pennell said he has to be careful with the way he criticizes Hill’s fouls.

“”You don’t want to talk about not fouling to the point where a guy doesn’t defend,”” Pennell said. “”I think the big thing with Jordan has always been the careless fouls.””

Pennell joked that if Hill didn’t have any fouls in the team’s Red/Blue scrimmage, but that may have been because he wasn’t playing any defense. The forward, however, said he’s trying harder than ever to be aggressive on the defensive end, but to minimize the fouls as well.

A zone defense may help him with that.

“”I’ve been working on shuffling my feet when I need to, keeping my hands up,”” said the 6-foot-10 Hill. “”But even if we go man-to-man, I’m trying to stay out of foul trouble. I’ve been working hard on that.””

With UCLA’s Kevin Love, Oregon’s Maarty Leunen, California’s Ryan Anderson and Stanford’s twins, Brook and Robin Lopez, all departed to the NBA, the Pacific 10 Conference has lost several standout big men, giving Hill more room to be one of the best Pac-10 players inside.

“”He’s a very talented big man,”” Pennell said. “”There’s some guys in this world who are tall and there’s some guys who are tall and athletic and Jordan’s in the second category.””

Hill spent most of the offseason polishing his game on the court. Onobun spent his offseason learning from a coach’s perspective.

The senior approached former Wildcat and current Phoenix Suns’ general manager Steve Kerr about a possible internship and wound up spending a month working with the Suns’ video coordinating crew.

“”He really blended well with those guys,”” Kerr said of Onobun. “”In fact, when we got to town (for preseason camp in McKale Center in October) he came down to the floor and it was like a reunion. Fendi’s a great kid and had a productive summer. We enjoyed having him.””

And while he is increasing his knowledge about the different prospectives of the game, there isn’t much need for him to increase his physical presence.

He did sit-ups and crunches in place of sprints and pushups during the preseason to keep as much strain off his shin as possible.

As for lifting weights?

“”I gain weight just looking at weights, man,”” he said with a laugh.

So Onobun will go about his business as a defensive roadblock who gets his points from offensive rebounds, free throws and naturally being open as a screener, although, “”if I never take a shot in a game, man, that’s OK,”” he said.

Onobun had 4 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals in 21 minutes in the Wildcats’ exhibition game against Incarnate Word on Nov. 6 -ÿa perfect line for the senior in Pennell’s eyes.

“”That’s just him,”” Pennell said.