In the locker room at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills was posing for photos holding the Division I state championship trophy.
There was a big smile on his face. His four-year high school career had ended with a third state title. He had fulfilled his promise to his brother, Nnamdi, who died in 2014 after a skateboarding accident.
“I just know I came to Chino Hills to play in honor of my older brother,” he said. “These three championships go to him because he never won one.”
Driven by a commitment to family, faith and community, the 6-foot-10 Okongwu proved to be the best basketball player in Southern California for the second consecutive season. He averaged 27 points, 11 rebounds, 4.3 blocks and four assists per game while shooting 62% from the field and 77% on free throws.
Okongwu has been selected The Times’ player of the year.
“He’s showing something new every game, which is impressive for somebody that’s already as good as he is,” coach Dennis Latimore said. “With his body of work and attitude, I’ve never been around an athlete like him. Never once in two years have I heard him yell at a teammate. It’s testament of his character. He doesn’t get rattled or get selfish or place blame on other people.”
Okongwu’s unselfishness could be seen in Chino Hills’ championship win. He fouled out with 1:30 left in the third quarter. By the final buzzer, when his teammates had pulled out a 69-63 win over Union City James Logan, Okongwu was the first player charging onto the court to congratulate his friends.
The way he played basketball and handled himself off the court earned him admirers around the Southland.
As a freshman, he was a starter on Chino Hills’ 35-0 team. He had opportunities to leave for another school but didn’t. He took pride in playing for his neighborhood school.
Okongwu, who is headed to USC, established a legacy that will be long remembered in his community.
“He became an even better passer and leader,” Latimore said of Okongwu’s development this season.
And he’s just beginning in his basketball career.