The prestigious UConn Men’s Basketball program has produced a solid amount of NBA players, but not every Husky is bound for the Association. A lot of former Huskies have a drive and skill that allows them to keep playing professionally beyond Storrs, all across the globe. David Onuorah, who played one season at UConn in 2017-2018 as a grad transfer from Cornell, has contributed to that contingency. This past season he has been with FOG Næstved, of the Basketligaen, Denmark’s top basketball league (and former club of ex-Husky Phil Nolan). He is averaging 5.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game for a league championship competing team. Staff writer Matt Barresi caught up with him, talking about his time abroad and some of his remaining connections to UConn.
Matt Barresi: Which is worse, the winters in Ithaca and Storrs, or what they have going on over in Denmark?
David Onuorah: I’d say the winter in Ithaca is the worst of the three places because of the lake effect snow. Storrs would be second and Næstved would be third. Compared to Ithaca and Storrs, Næstved’s winter is more mild, but definitely still cold.
MB: How is Næstved as a city? Any unique aspects to the lifestyle there?
DO: Næstved is a nice, beautiful city, and it is about an hour from Copenhagen. The country of Denmark as a whole is a safe place with some of the lowest crime rates in the world, so that is comforting. I feel like the cleanliness is a unique and cool lifestyle aspect here. The tap water here is so clean that you don’t really see water fountains around; everyone drinks water straight from the tap.
MB: How did you come to join FOG Næstved? What is the process of pursuing professional basketball abroad like?
DO: First, I signed with Jamie Knox of JCK Sports Agency, and he began the process of searching for job options. Team Fog Næstved was an option Jamie presented to me and it felt like a good solid situation, so we pursued it.
MB: How has the team done this season? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your season so far?
DO: The team has been solid this season. We finished the regular season in third place, and we are in the playoffs right now, so it’s exciting times. It’s definitely been a grind at times, but personally I feel that I have grown a lot, and teamwise I feel the same way. We’re all focused on finishing up strong now.
MB:Is the style of play different over there in any capacities?
DO: I feel that the style of play is more physical over here. They kind of let you play more over here compared to America.
MB: What about some of the other aspects like the coaching or basketball operations?
DO: Operations and coaching wise, we have an owner, general manager, head coach, assistant coach, and a team manager that we as players are most often in contact with and see. There are definitely others involved, but those are the main people I see and come in contact with.
MB: Wikipedia says Næstved is home to an amusement park called “BonBon Land.” Have you been?
DO: Haha. I have driven past BonBon Land a few times, but no, I have never been.
MB: What has been the most interesting experience you have had abroad, be it on or off the court?
DO: Around Christmas time, I had the opportunity to travel and visit Berlin for a few days, and that whole trip was fun and interesting. I went to a restaurant and tried kangaroo meat for the first time, which was definitely interesting. I was also able to visit and tour Olympiastadion Berlin, the main facility where the 1936 Olympics were held, and it was an amazing experience to just take in all the history combined with the architectural design and the intricate details about it. Berlin Cathedral was also impressive and interesting, and the Christmas markets with all the food stands and booths throughout the city were all awesome.
I have grown accustomed to this, but it was always interesting to me when I would be in a place and they didn’t really speak English. Most of the people here, especially young adults, speak English, which is nice so there isn’t too much of [a] language barrier, but the times where they didn’t made for interesting experiences for me. I remember being at a gas station, and the lady only spoke Danish but another customer came in soon after and was able translate for me. In this restaurant I like to go to, all the waiters only spoke Danish but one or maybe two of them, and the menu is in Danish, so I was constantly asking ‘what is this?’ But like I said, most people do speak English, so it doesn’t happen all the time.
MB: There [are] a lot of Americans on your team, including recent NCAA standouts P.J. Thompson of Purdue and Jordan Matthews of Gonzaga. What is your relationship like with these guys?
DO: I have a solid relationship with everyone on the team. P.J. and Jordan are cool; I think it is awesome that they were both a part of teams that went far into the NCAA tournament, with P.J. going to the Sweet 16 last year with Purdue and Jordan making it to the National Title game with Gonzaga in 2017. They’re both pretty funny guys too, our team has a few jokesters which makes for good laughs and good times.
MB: Did you follow this year’s UConn team at all? They played, and beat, Cornell as you may know.
DO: Yes, I definitely followed UConn this year, as well as Cornell, and college basketball as a whole in general. And haha yes I saw that as well; both schools are up north, so it was just a matter of time before they played each other.
MB: You are probably aware that Ray Allen had his jersey number retired. By proxy you did as well. You will be the last one to rep that number for the Huskies. What is your perspective on all that?
DO: I was super happy that they retired 34 in honor of Ray Allen. He’s been an inspiration to so many people everywhere, and a major face for UConn Basketball for some time now, so I was super happy to see that. I actually just finished listening to his book “From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and The Game I Love” for the month of March (I have a goal to either listen or read a book a month), and I loved it; it made me appreciate him that much more to get a better understanding of his path, work ethic, routine and everything he did to become who he is; inspirational. It’s cool that I was able to wear 34 last year and by happenchance be the last one to wear it, but, obviously, it is not about me.
MB: I certainly don’t want to put you in an early retirement, but you have the Ivy League degree and UConn Sport Management Master’s. What are you hoping to do post-playing?
DO: That’s a great question … I have a few different interests, and I am working on developing those interests to be more concrete and definitive.
At Cornell, I was an undergraduate business major, with my degree being applied economics and management, with a concentration in finance. However, one of my favorite classes that really had an impact on me from undergrad was Entrepreneurial Management, and that field interests me. I also loved my Strategic Thinking course from undergrad, and strategic management would definitely be something that I am interested in.
I’ve always played sports and loved the NBA and the game of basketball; I also loved the Sport Management M.S. program, so it would be awesome to utilize both those passions in a management setting down the line. I also enjoy functional fashion, and that’s been a recent growing interest of mine. But like I said, I’ve been working to define these interests more clearly for myself, so it’s all still a work in progress.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.