Updated: Jun 11
After taking a hiatus due to COVID last year, the 2021 Tarkanian Classic returned with 175+ teams spread across multiple gyms in Las Vegas, NV over the span of a week. Featuring elite basketball competition in prep and high school divisions, the must-see annual December high school tournament provided evaluators an opportunity to watch the prestigious NBA Academies in Africa and Latin America in addition to programs from around the U.S., Canada, and even Germany.
Pro Insight was on hand to cover the event and caught up with Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso of Putnam Science Academy (CT), New York Jayhawks (NY) and Team New England (MA), who represented the NBA Academy Africa at Tarkanian Classic. Originally from Nigeria, Kingsley played at the NBA Academy Africa in Senegal for two-and-a-half years before relocating to Putnam Science Academy (CT) last month. Standing close to 7’0”, the intriguing big man already has FIBA experience under his belt as he suited up for the Nigerian Men’s National Team. At the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers, Kingsley averaged 4.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, and one block in 10 minutes of action per game. Flashing his potential as a rim runner, finisher, and interior defender, the Nigerian prospect is a long-term name to track and has racked up interest and offers from several high major programs.
As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Kingsley highlighted what he learned while attending the NBA Academy Africa, being the only athlete in his family, looking up to Giannis on and off the court, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2023 prospect Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso, from Owerri, Nigeria:
Pro Insight: How did you get to where you are today?
Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso: Okay, so I'm Nigerian as you all know. So I came from the east side of Nigeria and I stayed with my family there. So basketball got me to the level I am now and with the people I’m around so getting to this point I'm just gonna appreciate the NBA Academy to get me to the point I am in now. Where I am now, it’s just the NBA Academy and I thank them.
PI: What was the adjustment coming to the U.S.?
UKO: I didn't really come to the U.S. from Nigeria, you know. I went to stay at the NBA Academy down in Senegal so they gave me the opportunity to play here in the U.S. Everything I did all started in Senegal. That's where it all started.
PI: You played AAU for Team New England (MA) and the New York Jayhawks (NY)?
UKO: Ah yeah, I did. I played there last summer.
PI: How was your AAU experience?
UKO: It was a good experience, especially playing with the U.S. kids. It was a very good experience. I mean, it wasn't that much of a big deal. There's not too much to say, but it was great.
PI: Talk a bit about your experience at the NBA Global Academy. In your opinion, what do you think is the most impressive aspect about the NBA Academy?
UKO: The way the coaches are, how hard they push us, that's the most impressive thing there. I mean my coach always tells me where he comes from…it’s either you kill or you get killed, so that thing is always stuck in my head. I mean you gotta work for what you want. You have to work like it's all about working there, it's all about work.
PI: What are the most important things you took away playing at Tarkanian Classic? How did you think you played?
UKO: Let's say I didn’t really play that well from my perspective. I don't know about others, but from what I think I can do [and what] I know how to do, I didn’t really play that well. I'm not sure if it's because of the altitude or something, but I didn't really play to what I think I can play.
PI: What are some aspects of your game you weren’t able to completely showcase?
UKO: The fact that I'm comfortable with the ball. I need to show that more. Like I know how to do it, but I don't really do it, because like I said, I'm kind of scared I'm going to lose the ball or something and I don't want to put my team in this situation where they're gonna lose because of what I did. So I'm just thinking about what I know how to do best. I know how to do those things, but I need to keep working on it in practice because I can't just show up in the game and start doing it, you feel me? I just need to work on it. That’s it, but I know I’m good at it, though.
PI: Of all the opponents you’ve played recently, who has been the toughest to matchup with?
UKO: For me, umm…I don't think nobody was that much of a [problem]…Okay, the guy I played against at the last game when we played at Bishop Gorman against them…Colorado Prep, the number 11 [Baye Ndongo]. I mean, he was kind of tough.
PI: Any other athletes in the family?
UKO: Nah, I'm the first. I'm the first to play sports, probably because of my height. And I got encouragement from my mom, so that's why I'm really into sports. And I'm the only one who’s playing sports in my family.
PI: How tall are your parents? Did you get your height from them?
UKO: Not really though (laughs). My mom, she’s like 5’5”. My dad, he’s like 5’9”. Like I’m really the tallest in the family, way taller than everybody in the family.
PI: What are your current measurements?
UKO: I don’t really know my wingspan, but I’m like 7’0” in shoes. I'm around 208 [pounds].
PI: For those who aren’t familiar with your game, what are your greatest strengths?
UKO: The way I play, I’m a [rim] runner. I like running the floor. I love running the floor. That's actually one of my biggest [parts of my] game. I'm a shot blocker. I believe I’m a great shooter. I haven't shown it, but I know how to shoot. I know how to block shots. I know how to run the floor. Post moves. I got it. That’s what I have.
PI: Who do you model your game after and try to study on film?
UKO: Yeah, like Giannis is the guy I look up to. The way he plays, his background, like I mean I see myself in him or something. Yeah, I see myself there because he is an inspiration to me not really based on basketball, how his life was because I had to study him. I had to do some background checks. Like he's a good inspiration to me like people say I look like him or something (laughs). Yeah, people say I look like him though, but that's not really what matters though. The way he plays, I mean, he's a big inspiration to me.
PI: What are your short term goals you have for yourself as a player?
UKO: My short term goals as a player is to get to the best school, to get a high major college offer, like from one of the best schools of Division I colleges. That's my biggest short term goal.
PI: Do you have a dream school growing up?
UKO: No, not really. I mean, if I see a school I can play in, like I'm getting playing time. I mean, I'm good.
PI: What’s your recruitment update?
UKO: Yeah, I mean I got some offers from Texas Tech, Georgetown. I mean those are my biggest D1 offers now.
Editor’s note: Kingsley has since received numerous offers including Syracuse, Ole Miss, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson, Providence, and Kansas State, among others.
PI: Talk about your experience with the Nigerian National Team.
UKO: It was very fun. I mean being the youngest player or one of the youngest players there, It was very very very fun. I mean the teammates, how determined they are. I mean, it's like an experience for me based on pro levels. It gave me an experience to see how it is to be at the pro level. It was very very fun.
PI: What are your biggest interests outside of basketball?
UKO: I really don't know, man, I haven't thought about it. All of my focus is just playing basketball, getting a good grade and all. I haven't really thought about anything outside of basketball.
PI: Do you listen to music?
UKO: Yeah I do. I do listen to music, especially to get my head into the game. That's what I do before I start any game. I just listen to music. That's like one of the best things I do.
PI: Who are your favorite music artists?
UKO: I don't have a favorite. I just like that if it feels good, I listen to it. I don’t have a favorite.
PI: If you were stuck forever on a deserted island and had all the food, water, and shelter you needed — what three personal items would you bring?
UKO: I'll bring my…okay let’s say, I call my mom, something family…I’ll bring them there, yeah.
PI: You can bring all of them. Let's say family is one item.
UKO: I’ll bring my family. If there’s a basketball court there, I mean I’ll bring a basketball. And music.
PI: You have one hashtag to describe yourself. What is it?
UKO: Oh yeah, you know I haven't thought about this. Hmm…I have no idea.
PI: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
UKO: The best advice I’ve gotten is “you work for what you get.” You work for what you get because where I come from or my family background, things aren’t really always financially stable. So like people always tell me, especially my mom, you don't sit and wait for things to come to you. You have to go for it, all for it. That is the biggest advice I’ve gotten.
PI: How would you define the word ‘success?’
UKO: Success…for me, success means hard work, because if you don't work hard, you don't expect success. For me, success means hard work.
PI: Where do you see yourself in five years?
UKO: Five years, I see myself in the league, no doubt. I see myself in the league if I keep playing the way I'm playing. If I keep playing the way I’m playing, I know I’m going to the league, for sure.
PI: Name four words that best describe you.
UKO: I'm confident. Funny. I'm versatile basketball-wise and I don't really say this, but I'm humble. You know why? Cause I know what I'm looking for. I know what I'm looking for, so I'll do my best to stay humble. So I know I'm gonna get it, because being humble is the key. That’s it. So humble is the number-one thing and that's in those four.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you hope to be remembered for?
UKO: He's a very good person like he's an inspiration to people. He's an inspiration.