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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Sports

From sitting out to balling out, Britney Onyeje has found home at UH


UH women's basketball guard Britney Onyeje releases a 3-point shot in a game against Memphis on Feb. 13 inside of the Fertitta Center. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

UH women’s basketball guard Britney Onyeje releases a 3-point shot in a game against Memphis on Feb. 13 inside of the Fertitta Center. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

Right out of Pflugerville High School, guard Britney Onyeje decided to head east to continue her athletic and academic careers.

She didn’t land in Houston, though. Instead she ended up all the way the way in the East Coast, enrolling at Central Florida in Orlando.

But at UCF, Onyeje sat out for her entire freshman season.

When things didn’t go as planned, Houston women’s basketball head coach Ronald Hughey and the rest of the coaching staff were thankful they had stayed in touch with Onyeje and her family.

Sometimes the saying “you’ll always find your way back home” rings true. It certainly did for Onyeje, who, after one season with Knights, decided to transfer to Houston.

“Usually Texas kids have a way of coming back, and that’s what happened with Britney,” Hughey said. “We were excited to be able to have the opportunity to have her back.”

Another pause

Onyeje, however, couldn’t hit the ground running like she wanted to. Due to transfer rules, she had to sit out another season. This time, it was particularly because this marked the second consecutive season she had to sit out.

This go-round, however, she used her time wisely.

“She developed herself into a 3-point shooter. And that’s the things we talk about when growing your game, knowing your role, buying into that,” Hughey said. “And that’s to her credit.”

After all that work, it seemed clear that Onyeje was set to make an immediate impact on the program, but she had yet to be challenged in an actual game setting, which had the coaches a little leery, but in her collegiate debut, Onyeje wowed with 23 points against Oklahoma.

“At the start of the season, I was very excited, so I feel like I just want to have high energy on the court,” Onyeje said. “Just cheer on my teammates, do whatever I can on the court that would help us win.”

That mentality is what Onyeje credits to helping her be prepared for the season’s start. The same go-getter mindset has also rubbed off on those around her.

“Energy, energy, energy. I love the infectious energy she brings every day,” Hughey said.

Through 15 games in her first full season as a collegiate basketball player, Onyeje has averaged 10.6 points per contest, leading the Cougars.

However, not every week has been smooth sailing. After going through a rough patch with her shooting, Onyeje had to regroup to get back to performing the way she and her coaches knew she could.

Along with more hours in the gym, perfecting her form and focusing more on making shots, Onyeje got back to her old self with the help of her team.

“The minute I sat out, when I was in a little shooting slump … Everyone was like ‘keep your head up, it’s going to fall, it’s going to fall,’” Onyeje said. “I feel like my teammates talking to me, that put me back in my little shooting streak.”

The team serves as an anchor in many areas of Onyeje’s life outside of basketball too. It is one of the things she likes about the program.

More than a team

“This school is family-oriented,” Onyeje said. “If I miss my parents, I can just go to my teammates or I can even go to some of the coaches and just talk to them, and they cheer me up.”

This team chemistry Onyeje speaks of accounts for much of UH’s success.

After UH’s start at the beginning of American Athletic Conference play, the Cougars began to struggle a bit. Hughey attributed a portion of this to the team’s connection, or lack thereof, on the court.

Since then, the team has meshed together to achieve a common goal — winning.

It sometimes leaves Hughey feeling like a proud father, as he put it.

One of the team’s most memorable bonding experiences was a make-shift talent show that took place the night before the game against ECU.

“Britney is Beyoncé and everybody else is just her background dancers,” sophomore guard Dymond Gladney said with a laugh as she reminisced.

Those silly times off the court have a way of translating onto the court for the UH women’s basketball team.

“We just have fun playing with each other, and you can tell. When we’re on the court … We gel,” Gladney said.

With a team like this, Onyeje has high hopes for the future.

All in

“I like competition … We want to win conference. We want to be the first ones that win the conference tournament,” Onyeje said.

For Onyeje, it seems as if she has found her stride, and those around her are ready to see what she’ll make happen.

“We always knew that she had energy, she was going to have a great attitude, she was going to work hard, and we thought everything might fall into place,” Hughey said. “And it absolutely has fallen into place for her.”

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