Since his debut with the senior varsity two seasons ago as a ninth grader, Holy Cross' Uyi Ologhola has grow into a tower of power for B.C.'s No. 1-ranked Quad-A senior boys basketball team. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

B.C. Catholic Championships 2019: Uyi Ologhola of host, No. 1 Holy Cross comes of age with a little help from the gridiron game

If you’ve followed the high school sports career of Uyi Ologhola with Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders, a couple of landmark moments stand out.

Of course there was his performance back in the 2017 at B.C. Quad-A basketball championships when, as a Grade 9, he put his team on his back and scored 37 points, carrying the Crusaders into overtime and past arch-rival Vancouver College 99-86.

And then earlier this school year, there he was again, this time as a second-year player on the Crusaders’ football team, turning a broken play into a 35-yard rushing touchdown as part of a 47-6 Subway Bowl quarterfinal win over the Prince George Polars at B.C. Place Stadium.

Basketball has always been the primary sport for the powerful 6-foot-2, 180-pound Grade 11, but the demands of a new training regimen, one gleaned from the gridiron, has helped give the effervescent Ologhola an entirely new level of confidence on the hardwood.

Take in any of the Quad-A No. 1-ranked Crusaders’ games this week, as they play host to the B.C. Catholic Championship tournament today through Saturday at their Surrey campus, and Ologhola’s blend of power and dexterity will be impossible to miss.

(Click here for the full B.C. Catholics tournament boys schedule)

“When the two of us talk, we talk a lot about gravity in basketball,” explained Holy Cross head coach Anthony Pezzente. “And Uyi has gravity. Guys just surround him, and he does such a good job sharing the basketball that he’ll pass, pass, pass. And when we start cutting off of that, we get buckets. If you don’t know where Uyi is on the basketball floor, then you’re not playing good high school basketball.”

This past weekend, Ologhola was at his two-way best on the court, earning MVP honours Saturday in Port Coquitlam as he helped lead the Crusaders past Oak Bay in the championship final of the 30th annual Jonathan Taylor Legal Beagle Classic.

Behind its 3-0 tournament run, Holy Cross moved into No. 1 in the latest Varsity Letters’ Big 10 Quad rankings.

Holy Cross’ Uyi Ologhola (right) leads his team this week as the host of the B.C. Catholic championships. (Photo by Wilson Wong property of UBC athletics 2018. All Rights Reserved)

Teammed with fellow Grade 11 standout Brent Padilla, who has lifted his game to the next level this season, and senior defensive presence Michael Risi, the Crusaders seem ready to wear the top ranking with comfort, unlike in previous campaigns when a talented but untested team strained under the weight of expectation. 

Rare is the occasion these days that a player of Ologhola’s quality elects to add a new sport to his repertoire this late in his athletic development, yet when you ask him about football, a sport he started playing in 2017 as a 10th grader, he offers up an answer straight of the 1970s.

“I know this sounds kind of weird, but our senior boys basketball team does conditioning during the football season,” Ologhola says through a sly smile. “I didn’t really want to condition, so I elected to choose football over (basketball) conditioning.”

In hindsight, of course, it was no easy way out.

And after earning Subway B.C. Double A provincial all-star team status as a defensive end, it’s hard to imagine Ologhola not lacing up his cleats, strapping no his helmet and getting in a stance this fall, where it is expected he will wreak havoc on opposition quarterbacks.

“Before I played football, I had the body but didn’t know how to use it,” he says. “But (Holy Cross head coach Conrad) Deugau taught me how to use my body, and now I have been able to use it on the basketball court.”

In particular, Ologhola’s football-based skill set has translated well on the court, and the easiest way to describe it is to say that it has upped his level of confidence to make the kinds of hustle plays he would formally have not thought possible.

In particular, it has shown in the defensive areas where his steals are more like football takeaways, and his deflected passes like something straight out of a rush end’s path to the pivot.

“Before football, I wouldn’t even try to make the steals I did today because I was scared I would get injured,” Ologhola said last Friday morning after his team’s Legal Beagle win over  Vancouver College, one in which his football footwork translated into the ability to save errant passes while keeping his toes in bounds. “But again, Mr. Deugau has taught me to know that I am bigger and stronger than most of my opponents.”

A slighter but still strong and effective Grade 9 Ologhola scored 37 points against Vancouver College in an overtime quarterfinal classic at the B.C. Quad tourney in 2017. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Basketball coach Pezzente and football coach Deugau are also good friends, and that has helped foster a great relationship between both programs.

With that in mind, it is no fluke that fellow Crusader Grade 11s Tee Anim and T.J. Fujimura have gotten off to quick starts on the court after also starring on the football field.

“Football has given Uyi a little bit of toughness, because as strong as he is, he didn’t like contact,” Pezzente says. “A part of that is because he came to (senior varsity) in Grade 9 and he was playing against seniors. This is the first time he has played against kids his own age since he was 13. On a couple of the steals he made today, he looked like a free safety just coming and grabbing the ball.”

Of course Ologhola is well versed in the legend of Jonathan Kongbo, the Crusaders’ basketball player who played one season of football at Holy Cross, then parlayed it all into an NCAA Div. 1 gridiron career at Tennessee.

“I don’t think I am going to follow his path and play football,” said Ologhola, who turned 17 this past Saturday. “But you can see how basketball helped him play football. He is so quick on his feet.”

When Holy Cross head coach Anthony Pezzente looks over his shoulder at the early years of his star guard Uyi Ologhola, he sees a player who has not taken his natural gifts for granted. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2019. All Rights Reserved)

The B.C. Catholics this weekend, then a chance to give a very young Holy Cross team two solid shots at trying to win the school’s first-ever B.C. boys senior varsity title. That’s Ologhola’s short- and long-term future on the court with Holy Cross over this season and next.

That means the kid with gravity has a lot to play for both this season and next.

“I think he has figured out that he needs to do other things, things other than just being Uyi,” Pezzente says of the Ologhola’s transition from uber-wunderkind to seasoned high school veteran.

“He has started to lift, to work on his body and his game,” adds Pezzente. “He’s a really good shooter now, too. He has looked at the other aspects of his game and realized he wasn’t going to just get by on being the best athlete in the province.”

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