Ugo Oha takes center stage

Everything is big in Texas – big state, big hats, big basketball fans. With her 6-4 frame, big smile and big-time skills, freshman Ugo Oha is the next big thing in women’s college basketball, especially for the GW basketball team. Oha will look to dominate the paint this weekend at the Liacouras Center and lead the Colonials to an Atlantic 10 Championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

So, how did they ever let this Houston native leave the state? It certainly was not by choice. Everyone in the country wanted her, including the universities of Notre Dame and Alabama, as well as Vanderbilt University.

GW women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown and his staff first saw Oha play during her junior year at Hastings High School. Intrigued by her dominating presence, the coaching staff agreed she would look great in Colonial buff and blue.

Luckily for GW, Oha agreed that this would be the right fit. So what was her ultimate reason for coming?

“She came here because of me,” McKeown joked. But, in a sense, she did. She was attracted to the strength of this GW program, a nationally respected program that McKeown continues to build.

“He’s so funny and my teammates are like my family,” Oha said. “I get to play for a good up-and-coming team.”

But there would be two “B’s” in Oha’s life, as her coaches told her coming in. Books and basketball – two aspects of life Oha takes very seriously. Also, just like most students who come to GW, the city was a big attraction to Oha.

“D.C is a city of opportunity,” she said. Now with her first regular season under her belt, Oha has the opportunity to help lead her team to postseason glory.

“I see this team going places,” Oha said. “We can be in the Final Four by my junior year. If we go out and play GW basketball, we can go to the Final Four any year as long as we come out and take care of business.”

What’s made Oha so dominating – her 68 blocks this season, her average of nine points and five rebounds a game – are the intangibles she brings to the game, according to McKeown.

“She is a premier shot-blocker, but its more than that,” McKeown said. “She’s one of the best freshman I’ve ever seen come in and play at this level.”

Oha was thrust into a leadership role as a freshman, a position that others might not be comfortable with.

“It’s like second nature because that was my role all through high school,” Oha said. “When I play I don’t think I’m a freshman, I just play.” Oha recognizes her importance to the team, a team that has played without Cathy Joens all year.

“If we’re not playing up-tempo and I block a shot it gets everyone pumped to go on a run,” she said. “I want to be a leader, and I think I can be. It just takes time.”

The motivation Oha provides is something McKeown said has had a positive effect on the team.

“She gets along with everyone,” McKeown said. “People just like to be around her.”

Oha said her favorite part of the daily process is just hanging out with her teammates and cracking jokes before and after practice.

As talented as she is, Oha is the first one to credit others and to admit she has more to learn. She describes herself as open-minded, someone who listens to everyone.

“I lay back and soak up everything, trying to learn,” she said.

“She’s very unselfish,” McKeown said. “As talented as she is, it’s never about her. Most of the great players expect more of themselves than anyone, that’s true with Ugo.”

Being so focused on books and basketball, Oha does not have much time to have a social life.

“What social life?” she joked. “It takes a lot of hard work to balance the two. When I do go out it’s to ease my mind.”

So when she’s not in the Smith Center, or at the library studying criminal justice and forensic sciences, she can be spotted relaxing, mostly with her teammates, at the monuments, movies, malls or museums, or even just hanging in the Marvin Center sipping her favorite Jamba Juice – Berry Sublime.

Despite Oha’s rolled ankle, an injury sustained in Sunday’s win against Rhode Island, the freshman will be ready to go, especially with her mom in attendance.

“Nothing will hold me back from this tournament,” she said.

As for her future, Oha is taking it one year at a time. Although she possesses the talent and drive to continue with basketball, she is not sure where that will lead.

“Maybe I’d play if WNBA players start getting payed what they’re worth, but probably not,” she said.

Whatever she decides, big things are in store for this freshman in the immediate future. Wait, a freshman, Joe?

“I told her you’re not a freshman anymore, it’s the postseason.”

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