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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Toby Onyekonwu preparing for breakout sophomore year

Shooting guard Toby Onyekonwu (right) looks to pass the ball while point guard Dean Noll (left) defends him in practice on Sunday, Oct. 15. Onyekonwu is entering his second year after a promising freshman season. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After bringing in a pair of All-Conference point guards to lead its offense, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team expected itself to be a dynamic offense. But when both of the players suffered significant injuries before the 2022-23 season tipped off, their jobs were placed on the shoulders of then-freshman shooting guard Toby Onyekonwu.

As it turned out, Onyekonwu was not too shabby himself. He wound up being the team’s most promising young player, as he knocked down 34.3% of his three-pointers and led them with 81 assists and 2.9 per game in his first year. On a team with four players who were 6-foot-10 or taller, the 6-foot Onyekonwu was the Seawolves’ fourth-leading rebounder.

With point guards Aaron Clarke and Dean Noll back and fully healthy for the 2023-24 season, Onyekonwu will return to his natural position of shooting guard. Now back in his comfort zone, Onyekonwu is primed to build on his promising freshman season.

“I have to improve, I’m not going to say those are any type of good numbers, but I’m going to say that I could improve all aspects of the game,” Onyekonwu said in an interview with The Statesman. “I’m still young, I have so much more I could bring to the team and I think this year is going to show that.”

If his previous years spent playing the two are any indicator, Onyekonwu has a great chance to break out. After all, it was his days playing that role that led him to NCAA Division I basketball.

Onyekonwu’s journey started in his hometown of Joliet, Ill. when he was six years old. He started playing in a recreational basketball league at a gym close to his childhood home.

As a little kid, he fell in love with being on the court before he even knew why.

“As soon as I started playing, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Onyekonwu said. “Me and my best friend signed up to play and his dad was the coach. We didn’t really know too much about what was going on, but we were just out there playing with each other.”

After playing basketball in the recreational league throughout elementary school, Onyekonwu transitioned into playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball in middle school. His lessons learned in the AAU prepared him for an illustrious — and also rootless — high school career that led him down the path to where he is now.

Onyekonwu began his high school varsity basketball career at Plainfield East High School in Illinois as a freshman for the 2018-19 season. In his sophomore year, the COVID-19 pandemic rolled around, causing all high school basketball activities around Illinois to be shut down. Seeking out other opportunities to play, Onyekonwu took his talents to the West Coast and transferred to Trinity Prep in Las Vegas, where he spent his junior year.

Onyekonwu continued his development with Trinity Prep and became one of the stars of its boy’s basketball team. However, his stint there was short. Once things started to open back up in Illinois in the fall of his senior year, Onyekonwu went back home to Joliet and transferred into Joliet West High School. Due to his late arrival, he was ineligible to play until January 2022, when he made his debut and scored 33 points.

Onyekonwu finished the rest of the 2021-22 academic year at Joliet West and played the final 15 games of the season. According to Shaw Local News Network, Onyekonwu averaged 23 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals per game with his new and final high school team.

Coming into his senior year of high school, he had not received a Division I offer and began to worry. However, his 15-game heater caught the attention of head coach Geno Ford and his staff, who offered him a scholarship.

The offer came as a relief to Onyekonwu, who had uprooted himself twice in high school just to get an opportunity to play in college.

“I think it was just a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Onyekonwu said. “I was able to finally get to say, ‘Okay, I can go to college now and not have to stress about that anymore.’”

Though he was relaxed by his offer from Stony Brook, he was put back on edge by his first true assignment in the NCAA: run the offense on opening night at the University of Florida. The daunting task of having to play a new position at a big-time program in front of a large crowd got inside of Onyekonwu’s head.

“It was overwhelming,” Onyekonwu said. “Not overwhelming in like I can’t do it, but [I had] never played point guard. So it was like, ‘Alright, you got a big responsibility now.’”

Onyekonwu struggled to adjust to the speed and physicality of the Division I level. Through his first six games (all starts), he shot just 29.4% and 21.4% from deep while turning the ball over 3.5 times per game. In a practice leading up to the Seawolves’ Nov. 29, 2022 matchup with St. Joseph’s University, Onyekonwu broke his nose, sidelining him for three and a half weeks.

In his absence, former point guard Kaine Roberts took his place in the starting lineup, enabling Onyekonwu to take a step back and learn.

“For that time it allowed me to really see and get a better mental approach to the game,” Onyekonwu said. “Things started to slow down for me. I was just taking my time with everything, putting more work in with Coach [Jalen] Avery and just studying the game a little bit more.”

He returned to the floor wearing a protective facemask on Dec. 18, 2022 against Army West Point. Onyekonwu was a changed man, as he shot 39.2% from the field and 37.7% from three-point range over the rest of the season. Arguably, his best game came against cross-town rival Hofstra on Jan. 4, 2023.

Once he shed the facemask, his stock continued to rise. In a six-game stretch from Jan. 19 to Feb. 4, Onyekonwu cracked double figures in every game while posting a .441/.500/.765 shooting line. He averaged 12.8 points and 3.8 assists per game during that hot streak.

With Clarke and Noll returning to the floor, Onyekonwu’s load will be significantly lighter and his job will be simplified. He can focus more on displaying his scoring ability off the wing like he did in high school, rather than needing to be the team’s lead facilitator every night.

Though these variables have Onyekonwu primed for an easier and more successful sophomore year, he is more focused on winning a title rather than receiving an honor.

“Just winning; that’s probably the biggest thing for me,” Onyekonwu said. “Our goal is to go to the NCAA tournament. We have guys that are capable of getting Player of the Year, but I think most of the guys on the team [just] want to win.”

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