Six-foot-4 guard hopes to direct Bengals’ comeback this winter
James H. Blake High School senior guard Demonte Ojinnaka got his shot blocked going to the rim on his first drive of last week’s The Rock summer basketball league victory against Potomac.
On his second drive towards the basket, he was cut off and forced to pass. On his third drive, the ball slipped out of his sweaty hands in High Point High’s gymnasium.
Defensively, meanwhile, Ojinnaka, who was the Bengals’ leading scorer last winter, pulled down three quick rebounds during the opening minutes of the June 19 52-39 win. He added another rebound on the offensive end and scored with a stick back layup and layup in transition a possession later.
But for the rest of the first half — nearly a full 10 minutes — Ojinnaka went without a field goal, though it was not for lack of trying and Blake went into halftime trailing by a single field goal. Summer league halftime lasts just one minute, but it was long enough for Blake coach Marcus Wiggins to leave the gym with his head shaking and summer league coach Dominique Scott to get Ojinnaka into a groove.
In the second half, the Silver Spring native scored 17 of his 23 points to lift the Bengals, who trailed by 12 at one point, to a 13-point win. Many of his shots came in the lane or from the foul line.
“I feel like I should be doing that every game,” he said. “We were down and I was struggling in the first half, but the second half we had to pick it up.”
To improve on last season’s 10-14 record and replace eight players due to graduation losses, Ojinnaka, who also lost his mother to cancer, will have to be even more of a leader for the Bengals.
“He hasn’t had to be that leader up to this point,” Wiggins said. “There are some kids who are reluctant to be that leader or don’t know how to handle it. He’s just figuring it out.”
Ojinnaka agrees with that assessment. Last year, with such a large senior class, he didn’t have to fill that role. So this year — when a point guard misses a pass in transition, a forward can’t come up with a loose ball or when a center commits a lazy foul — he is learning to improve communication with his teammates
“I hate losing,” he said. “Even pick up games, I try to make my team the same way and that’s why I get on them on the floor.
“I don’t get frustrated. I don’t have a bad temper, but when I see little things like bad tempo or silly turnovers, I do get frustrated.”
But, Ojinnaka says, it’s a positive and constructive frustration, one that truly reflects his desire to win and one to which teammates respond.
“You look into his eyes,” Wiggins said, “… There’s something inviting about him. He’s so innocent.
“He’s been in the system longer than anyone else and it’s his turn to pull kids up and put them on his back. He’s learning how to make the people around him better.”