Oscar Uduma (above) has been a key starter for Bonner this year after almost not playing hoops. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
WYNDMOOR –– Oscar Uduma didn’t plan on playing basketball this season. The rest of the Bonner-Prendergast hoops squad is sure glad he changed his mind.
“I was thinking about my brothers who I started [school] with,” Uduma said. “I didn’t want to leave them hanging.”
Uduma had been part of the Friars’ hoops program each of his first three years at the Drexel Hill Catholic school, but hadn’t been any more than a situational reserve on the varsity level, a role he only started filling the latter part of his junior year. Meanwhile, he started playing football as a junior and had quickly become a standout for the Friars, attracting scholarship offers for his work as a two-way athlete on the gridiron; he’ll play at West Chester next fall.
With it clear that his athletic career would continue in college as a football student-athlete, Uduma wasn’t sure he’d have time to get back to basketball shape, to get in one more season of the sport he’d been playing in an organized fashion since middle school.
Bonner’s football season ended Nov. 16 against Imhotep Charter in the District 12 4A championship game, two days before the first official day of the basketball preseason. It was just enough time for Uduma to come around.
“I always knew he was going to play this year,” said Tyreese Watson, another Bonner senior guard and one of Uduma’s close friends. “This is his first sport, and me and Oscar, we talked during his football season, and I told him that we were going to need him this year, for sure.”
“He was a game-changer,” head coach Kevin Funston said.
For the first couple weeks of the season, Uduma came off the bench for Bonner, a bigger role than he had as a junior, though still a backup. But while the Friars were playing a couple games at the Governor’s Challenge late in December, Funston decided to make a lineup change, taking 6-foot-6 forward Christion Johnson out of the starting group and inserting Uduma, a 5-11 guard.
That left the Bonner lineup with five guards 6-3 or shorter: Watson, Uduma, Connor Eagan and Donovan Rodriguez –– all seniors –– and junior Malik Edwards. And it worked. That group helped Bonner finish in fourth place in the ultra-competitive Catholic League despite graduating two high-major players in two-time PCL MVP Isaiah Wong (University of Miami) and power forward Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forest).
“We put him into the lineup down in Maryland just to kind of tinker with it and see what would happen, and I couldn’t take him out of the game,” said Funston, who earned PCL Coach of the Year honors. “We played so fast and we were able to switch everything...there was such chemistry with the four seniors and Malik. He really makes a huge difference.”
Uduma certainly made a difference for Bonner on Thursday night, hitting three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of the Friars’ 64-58 win over Imhotep Charter in the hoops edition of the District 12 4A championship game.
With Bonner (18-5) holding a three-point lead over Imhotep (19-8) in the final three minutes, Uduma’s 3-pointers on consecutive possessions gave the Friars the necessary cushion to get out of La Salle College HS with their third straight district title, including second straight over Imhotep in the 4A classification.
“Just a statement win, because last year they beat us in Hershey,” Uduma said, referring to last year’s 4A state championship game, which saw Imhotep gain revenge on Bonner for last year’s district title loss. “So we came back and try to win –– no easy games, we knew that, so we came out ready to play.”
Though Bonner and Imhotep are getting used to playing each other at the biggest points in the season, this year’s participants were markedly different from last year’s. Each team graduated four starters from a year ago: the Panthers returning only Notre Dame-bound big man Elijah Taylor, and the Friars returning only Watson.
Bonner’s all-guard rotation did its thing against Imhotep, connecting on 10-of-19 3-pointers, including 5-of-6 in the first quarter; as a team, they had 15 assists on 20 buckets. Rodriguez (two 3s) and Edwards (three 3s) each popped in 16 points, Watson (two 3s) added another 14, and Udoma had 12.
The scoring ability is something new for Uduma, whose most valuable contribution on the floor typically comes as a rebounder and defender who can find open shooters and hit layups when he needs to.
“He can shoot now, that’s what we need,” Watson said. “Last year, he was a little shaky, but this year you can really tell he worked on it, we needed it.”
“I just didn’t have confidence, I felt like,” Uduma agreed. “I didn’t have confidence to shoot the ball, and we had Isaiah, so he took most of the shots, and we had other players who could also score. I came in as a hype man/energy guy, so I didn’t have to take too many shots.”
As the top seed out of District 12, Bonner will open up the PIAA Class 4A state tournament with Eastern York (16-9), the No. 5 seed out of District 3 (central PA including Lancaster, Berks, York, Cumberland, and other counties), on Friday March 6. They won’t play another team from southeastern PA (districts 1 and 12) until at least the quarterfinals, if they can win their first two.
If Bonner reaches the state championship game, there’s a chance they could play Imhotep yet again, though the March 19 title game in Hershey is still a ways away. But it means there’s at most five games left in Oscar Uduma’s hoops career, and he said he’s very much taking it all in –– every practice, every warmup, every game.
“I won’t be playing in college, and I know I’m going to miss it,” he said, “especially playing with my brothers.”
Imhotep: 15 | 10 | 17 | 16 | 58
Bonner: 21 | 11 | 12 | 20 | 64
Imhotep: 19-41 FG (7-19 3PT), 13-17 FT
Bonner: 20-39 FG (10-18 3PT), 14-19 FT
Imhotep: Taylor 17, Roundtree 12, Barno 12, Wylie 7, Edwards 6, White 3, Reid 1
Bonner: Edwards 16, Rodriguez 16, Watson 14, Uduma 12, Eagan 4, Welde 2