February 8, 2007

10 Questions with Men's Basketball's Ugo Ihekweazu

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1. You just had a career game against Dartmouth last Friday with 12 points and five boards. What’s it like on a night when everything seems to be working?

I don’t know. Growing up, I’ve had nights like those, in middle school and high school. It’s just an ordinary night. At the end of the game you realize that you’re playing well, but during the game it just feels like a normal game.

During warm-ups, do you notice more of your shots falling?

Not even that. It’s actually the exact opposite. Sometimes when I’m warming up shooting the ball pretty well, during the game I’ll shoot it terribly. It’s hard to explain.

At 6-5, you’re playing power forward for the team, which is relatively small for the position. How do you compensate for your lack of size inside?

In terms of playing basketball, I’ve always played inside. When I was growing up I was always taller than everyone and in high school, I played AAU with a lot of guys that are in the NBA right now like Ndudi Ebi, Kendrick Perkins, Daniel Gibson.

Do you still have their numbers in your cell?

I talk to them every once and a while, probably Daniel Gibson the most. But in terms of playing inside, I would have to guard guys like Allen Jefferson. A lot of big guys …

You should be dominating the Ivy League right now. What are you trying to do every game?

In the league, my goals are to out-hustle other teams or the guys in my position.

You seem to have knack for pulling down some big boards during the game.

It’s something I’ve gotten used to. If the shooter happens to miss, I’m pretty good at on the release of the ball telling where the ball is going to go if he misses.

2. The team got off to a solid, 4-2 start in the Ivies. Do you think you can contend for the title?

I think we’re definitely talented enough, and I think we have all the weapons to do so. I think the most important thing is just being mentally prepared every game.

That seemed like one of the things early on the season, that with the team being so young, it had trouble closing out games. What’s changed now that you’re in Ivy play?

The fact that we played games like that early on in the year, against Binghamton, Stony Brook and all the other teams that we lost to, I think we learned from that in a way.

Because the team is so young, do you feel the pressure as a senior to step up more in a leadership role?

Definitely. One thing that we’ve talked about with back-to-back games in the league is how every game matters. There is no tournament in the conference and I think most of the teams in our conference are evenly matched. It’s just a matter of who wants it more. Especially Saturday night games on the road. Traveling, hotels and the bus rides — it’s tough.

Were Harvard and Dartmouth sending the call girls to your hotel or placing the 3 a.m. wakeup calls?

[Joking.] Yeah, there were hecklers outside honking all night.

What’s the toughest arena to play at in the Ivy League?

Obviously Penn, but Yale is also a pretty tough place to play.

Yale’s first in the League, and they’re coming to town this weekend. Any predictions?

We’re looking to play tough against them. They’re a physical team. They have athletes, they have shooters and they have guys inside. Against Yale, we have to execute.

3. What’s it like with all this all this young talent on the team? I mean the only time a Cornell player hasn’t won Ivy League Rookie of the Week has been when the team had a bye week.

It’s very exciting. I see those guys, and they’re the first guys on the court. That’s mostly because they’re all healthy and don’t have to go the trainer. If you look at the training room, it’s all seniors. I just enjoy those guys. They really contribute a lot to the team. They’ve brought a lot of extra energy.

Are they the guys carrying the balls out to the court or mixing up the Gatorade?

Yeah, and laundry.

Who’s the best folder on the team?

I would have to say [freshman] Pete Reynolds is exceptional.

Is he a hotelie?

No, I think he’s in the Ag school. No, wait, actually he’s engineering. So the dynamics of corners — he’s got the physics down.

I think I missed that lesson.

4. If you could get into the med school of your choice or win the Ivy League championship and go to the NCAA tournament, what would you pick?

[Long pause while weighing options.] Definitely the Ivy League.

That’s ridiculous. You know they don’t pay you for that, right? You’re crazy.

I don’t think so.

Why not?

Because by saying med school of my choice, you’re implying that I’ll be getting in other places and most med schools are on similar levels.

I guess it really doesn’t matter where you throw away the best years of life. So you’re saying you’ve got the med school thing locked up?

I’m not saying I have it locked up, but if you’re saying I have the ability to get into any med school that I can, then I have some ability to get into other places. The trip to the NCAA tournament is more than myself. It’s about my teammates. It’s about Cornell.

Do see that trip coming in the future?

Definitely. The fans should be ready for it.

5. Let’s talk about sophomore Khaliq Gant. His injury last year was such an intense, scary event for everyone involved and his recovery and return to Cornell have been truly inspiring. How has his presence influenced the team this year?

Him being around is something that’s huge for us. Khaliq is someone who has a tremendous amount of passion for the game and for hard work and for life. He’s probably one of my best friends on campus right now. You probably should have hit him up for questions. He has some juicy stuff on me. But his recovery has just been incredible. During practice he jumps rope and it looks like he’s just Khaliq jump roping.

Is that something you think about when you’re in the weight room sweating through a workout?

Definitely. You hate to think about it, but sometimes you think this could be your last step on the court. Not taking that for granted is definitely something we consider. And a blurb for Khaliq, he benched 135 pounds three times the other day. The whole experience has just put a lot of things in perspective.

6. Assistant coach Zach Spiker got married over the summer. Were you invited to the wedding?

No. No one was.

He didn’t want you guys there?

I don’t think he likes us.

What about the bachelor party?

Not even that.

Did you send him a card?

No. It’s reciprocal. If you’re not going to invite us to wedding, why should we get him anything? It’s been a strain in our relationship this season.

Has marriage changed him?

I think it made him become worse. He likes being in the gym a lot more. Don’t tell his wife I said that, though.

7. You’re wearing what seems to be the regulation off-court attire of a Cornell basketball player: sweats and a hoody. Do you know they make shirts with buttons and pants with belt loops?

The button down? I’m different from everybody else. I do throw on a blazer or a button down.

So is this dressing up for the interview?

This? I definitely dressed down for the interview. I’m sorry Paul. I thought about it.

It’s too cold. I understand.

It was a rough night last night.

We won’t tell your head coach Steve Donahue about that. But let’s talk about Donahue’s game attire, because I think it’s probably the most lacking aspect of his coaching arsenal. Any suggestions?

I’d go the Bill Belichick. Forgot the jacket and tie and just go with the hoody.

He always takes his jacket off during the game anyway. So, who is the worst dressed on the team?

I’m going to have to go with [senior tri-captain] Graham Dow. He’s Canadian.

That explains it. He’s a little scruffy. Has he heard of a razor or shaving cream?

They don’t have razors in Canada.

I didn’t think so. What about the best dressed?

Definitely myself. It’s not even close.

I’m glad 10 Questions remains a bastion of objectivity. What makes you such a fashion icon?

I think I have a keen sense of how to put together different colors.

Are you a fall or winter guy?

I’m definitely a fall guy. I like coats. I like the blazer, but it’s kind of getting phased out right now.

You know what I’m thinking: it’s time for the vest to make a comeback.

[Skeptical] The vest is O.K. The military jacket last fall was pretty hot, but we’ll see.

If you had any fashion tips for our readers, what would they be? What’s the worst fashion faux pas you’ve seen on campus?

The girls with the skintight pants. I don’t know what they’re called.

That weird Lindsay Lohan look?

Yeah, that’s pretty awful. Then also, one thing in the spring that I really dislike are those big glasses, like Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s terrible.

8. After perusing you’re Facebook profile, I think you’re in more honor societies and student associations than Tracy Flick in Election. Who are you trying to impress because it’s not impressing me?

I’m sorry.

I just find it hard to believe you have time to do all these things.

I don’t take naps.

Do you have time to even sleep at all?

I sleep like six or seven hours, but Dr. Moss says nine-and-half hours.

Yeah, but he’s got tenure. He can afford to sleep that much.

I can work it with six.

What drives you or motivates you to be so active on campus?

I don’t know. I like people. It is kind of cliché, but I like the things I’m doing.

What are you most proud of outside of basketball?

Definitely the Ivy Journal of Ethics. I’m the editor in chief of that. It’s the publication of the bioethics society at Cornell, so we get submissions and articles from different undergrads across the country.

Are people debating hand checks and moving screens?

That and the ethics of the three-second violation. That’s one of the main focuses of the journal.

I think it will be big election issue, sort of the gay marriage of 2008.

Hillary Clinton wants to expand the lane a little bit. I’m not sure about that.

Clearly she’s playing to the party’s insiders.

9. CollegeHoops.net honored you as having the 11th best name in all of college basketball. Why not top-10?

I should have been top-5.

I mean some of the guys, like [fails to pronounce name Northern Colorado’s Thanasi Panagiotakopoulos] don’t even have creative names. They’re just long.

It’s not creative at all. But Longar Longar, that’s pretty funny.

Have you ever thought about changing your name to get that top spot?

No. What would I change it to?

Ugo Crazy?

That’s pretty bad. I think just Ugo Ugo.

That’s got a nice ring. So do you have any nicknames on the team or is it straight Ugo?

I don’t know. Uges.

How about “Failed European Car Manufacturer?”

[Laughs.] Oh, Yugo. That’s good.

10. What’s the hottest women’s varsity team at Cornell?

They have attractive young women on a lot of the teams. Can I give shout outs?

Absolutely not. This is a purely scientific, objective question.

All right, I’m going to go with women’s basketball.

Really? Is this just because you share the courts with them and you’re worried about an altercation?

I think any girl that’s not afraid to go one-on-one with me is hot.

What about two-on-one?

[Laughing] I think I can handle that. I don’t know if they can.

What about in terms of positions?


I mean on the basketball team.

Oh, guards.

You like a girl who’s quick taking it to the hole?

Yeah, but they’re all nice girls on the team.

I don’t know. Senior Claire Perry didn’t come to my birthday party.