FALLEN STAR: Chino Hills High School basketball player Nnamdi Okongwu, a member of the team that went to the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship game in March and a Pac-12 prospect, died Wednesday July 16.
Chino Hills Photo
Last week club basketball teams were playing in a tournament at Redondo Union High School with heavy hearts.
Chino Hills High School basketball player Nnamdi Okongwu, a member of the team that went to the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship game in March and a Pac-12 prospect, died Wednesday July 16 from a head injury he suffered in a skateboarding accident Tuesday, according to his coach Steve Baik.
Okongwu was 17.
“He was a big presence as a basketball player and an even bigger presence as a person,” said Baik, who was on vacation in Hawaii. “We’re all going to miss him tremendously. It’s kind of staggering to think about right now.”
Okongwu died at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. Details of the accident were not available.
Not only was Baik out of town, so was assistant coach Don Grant. Another assistant, Mel Simms, found out about the accident from a text his daughter received.
“I feel really sick right now,” Grant said. “I can’t even comprehend how his family is feeling right now. It’s always tough when someone you know passes away, but for it to be a kid? It’s even tougher.”
The 6-foot-9 center would have been a senior in the fall, He was viewed as a player with raw basketball ability that was just beginning to blossom. He was starting to get attention from major Division I schools after the Huskies’ showing of the past season. He had already received a scholarship offer from Loyola Marymount, an NCAA Division I university in Los Angeles.
He was an integral part of Sierra League title and postseason runs. He wasn’t always a starter, but when he wasn’t, he was the first player off the bench for a team that relied heavily on six players.
The honorable mention All-Inland Valley selection helped the Huskies (29-6) to a spot in the Southern Section Open Division championship game, where they lost to nationally ranked No. 1 Mater Dei at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Chino Hills also played in the state portion of the Division I playoffs and reached the South Region championship before losing to Corona Centennial at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
His death left the local basketball community stunned.
“He was a kid with a great smile and a great personality that stood out,” said Damien coach Matt Dunn, whose Spartans played in the same league. “This is really heartbreaking.”
His teammates echoed those sentiments.
“I used to give him rides to school and he was always cracking jokes. He was definitely a jokester,” said Bishop Mency, a graduated senior already on campus at Rice University. “We all loved being around him.”
Okongwu was also popular with other athletes, according to former baseball coach Kyle Billinglsey, who had Okongwu in class. “Our guys loved him. He had that happy, carefree attitude but he was also very respectful and humble.”
Billinglsey said a candlelight vigil is being planned for July 28 but details have not yet been finalized.