For UW-Whitewater senior guard Jerry Ngobi, the purpose behind basketball is greater than the game itself.
After two standout seasons as a junior and senior at Janesville Craig, averaging 16.4 and 15.5 points per game, respectively, Ngobi came to UW-Whitewater to further his basketball career.
Ngobi saw limited playing time his freshman year. He averaged 4.7 minutes and 2.5 points per game.
In his sophomore campaign, though, he appeared in all 26 games, including 12 as a starter. He scored 6.0 points per game on 52.9 percent shooting. He was also third and second on the team in assists and steals, with 46 and 20.
It appeared as if Ngobi was primed to take another step his junior year, but the Warhawks landed several coveted transfers and Ngobi’s averages fell back near his freshman numbers.
“It wasn’t frustrating, it was just finding yourself,” Ngobi said. “I looked towards guys in the NBA, guys who may not play a lot but who still contribute to the team’s success. The average fan who watches the game may just see the guy scoring, but you don’t understand what I do in practice every day, what I do with my teammates off the court.”
Ngobi didn’t let the loss of playing time negatively affect him. Instead he found his role on the team and embraced it.
Following a long bus trip, players groggy and uninspired, it was Ngobi who would get his team energized and ready to play. He was, and still is, essentially the “Energizer Bunny” for the Warhawks.
“He comes every day with the same attitude,” Warhawks junior guard Andre Brown said. “His demeanor doesn’t change, he doesn’t have ups and downs. No matter what is going on with his own life or the team, he’s always going to be someone who is very supportive of the team and excited to be there.”
While Ngobi is a source of energy for the Warhawks, he finds his motivation elsewhere—his parents’ home country. Although he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, his mom and dad are from Uganda.
“I go back to Africa and I see where my parents have come from,” Ngobi said. “So, when I’m here I can never be down or have a bad attitude, because I understand the opportunity that I’ve been given. I still have family over there that’s depending on me to do great things over here, so that always keeps me going.”
It’s not just the place that keeps Ngobi motivated, it’s also the people. He keeps in touch with his 20 or so cousins from Uganda. He even had one cousin, originally from Uganda now working in the U.S., make a lengthy trip this year to watch him play.
“He’s in Colorado, but he wants to come all the way to Wisconsin just to see me play an intrasquad scrimmage where there’s two people in the gym,” Ngobi said. “If my cousin is doing that, there’s no way after practice I’m not going to the library to take care of my business. That is what keeps me pushing.”
Ngobi cited his parents as some of the most influential people in his life. He originally saw them as overly strict as a child, but through the years has learned to appreciate their style of parenting.
“As I grew older I understood that there was values they were instilling in me that right now are second nature,” Ngobi said. “I’m extremely grateful for the parents I’ve had.”
Those values helped earn Ngobi the Male Sportsmanship Award at the 2017 Warhawk Awards.
As much as Ngobi prides himself on his sportsmanship and enthusiasm, the new season might have more in store than just sideline cheers for the Warhawks longest-tenured player.
“He’s getting better and better,” UW-Whitewater men’s head basketball coach Pat Miller said. “He’s improved his game, he’s scoring more. We can play him at the one or the two, so he has some versatility.”
For Ngobi, the potential for an expanded role would be welcomed.
“Obviously I want to be known more than just the guy who’s on the bench yelling up and down,” Ngobi said. “I know what I can I do, I know what I bring to the table.”