The Ducks' Southern California Kids
By Andrew Longeteig
UO Media Services
Ndidi Unaka and Alyssa Fredrick are junior forwards on the Oregon basketball squad. They passionately miss their native Southern California sunshine. And, each exudes off-the-court intelligence and selflessness.
Their pathways to the Pac-10, however, were quite different.
'Oregon was pretty much out of the question,' said Fredrick, who grew up in San Diego. 'I wanted to stay closer to my family and friends and be seen by people I was close to. Oregon wasn't really a thought in my mind.'
The Ducks coveted Fredrick, but she chose nearby San Diego State. She earned All-WAC Freshman Team honors after scoring nearly 11 points per game as a part-time starter, but felt her basketball life was unfulfilled.
'SDSU was like high school. Oregon is like serious D-I basketball,' Fredrick said. 'After the year at San Diego State, I knew I wasn't going to go back. I didn't like the situation. I thought about a school that could offer a good education and had a winning basketball program. Oregon was it.'
Unaka, a Los Angeles native recruited by such schools as USC and Santa Clara, said she was certain she'd be playing collegiately in her home state.
'Oregon? I'd never even heard of Oregon before,' Unaka said. 'I never thought about it seriously until my junior year.'
Fredrick, whose mother (track) and father (football) were high school athletes, never considered basketball until her freshman year. That fall, she met the varsity coach who convinced her to try out for the team. Fredrick, a raw, undeveloped athlete, made the cut.
'I played a couple minutes a game as a freshman,' she said. 'I was a noodle then. I was like 6-2 and 30 pounds lighter.'
But her school environment wasn't as easy as her basketball transition.
'When someone showed off their gun to me in geometry class, I decided to leave,' she said. Fredrick transferred to Christian High for her final two years, earning honorable mention All-America honors from Street & Smith's her senior season.
Unaka's parents, who are full-blooded Nigerians, helped steer her away from the widespread crime and gangs, especially when the family lived in South Central L.A. for Ndidi's first 11 years.
'Parts of South Central were bad, but I was used to it,' said Unaka, the oldest of five children. 'It was just home. There was a lot of crime, but my parents raised us well so we didn't have to worry about that. I think it helped that I attended private school since the second grade.'
Unaka was a jack-of-all-trades in elementary school, playing volleyball, basketball and running track. Colleges began to take notice of her volleyball talent in high school, but Unaka elected to concentrate on hoops after her sophomore year at St. Bernard. Recruiters liked her quickness and jumping ability (a team-record 27-inch vertical leap). Her maturity, too, also may have played a factor. Unaka gained invaluable perspective the summer before her senior year by traveling throughout Nigeria with her immediate family for one month, visiting relatives.
'We went from place to place and visited everybody we could,' she said. 'It was definitely a culture shock. It makes you appreciate what you have here, because other countries aren't as fortunate as we are and we take a lot of things for granted.'
Fredrick, an English major, certainly doesn't take learning for granted. She is a computer aficionado. Fredrick constantly works on her personal website, www.veracious.org, and has considered pursuing careers in web design or coaching.
Meanwhile, Unaka spends most of her free time at the movies. Horrors, comedies, dramas, mysteries ... and anything with Eddie Murphy or Denzel Washington.
An exercise and movement science major, Unaka also would like to work in the health-care field.
'I've always wanted to be a doctor ('ER' is favorite TV show), but now I'm kind of leaving my options open, trying to stay realistic,' she said.
The two appear content in Oregon, both of whom enjoy the friendly people and laid-back, distraction-free environment. It may become more stressful next season, though, when their roles will increase, mostly due to the graduation of front-court seniors Angelina Wolvert, Jenny Mowe and Brianne Meharry.
'Next year they're going to expect me to fill their shoes, and hopefully I can in some way or another,' said Unaka, who scored a career-high 12 points this year against Portland. 'I've learned how to use my quickness, because I'm not as big as they are. Instead of having a power game, I have to utilize my strengths. Angelina's spin move ... maybe I should work on that a little more.'
'Our roles are totally going to change,' said Fredrick, who had her best point total (12) in an Oregon uniform Dec. 13 vs. Texas Tech. 'It's just going to be an adjustment. We'll be getting a chance to start and be leaders on the court. I think it's going to be fun, personally.'