The Press Newspaper
University of Toledo junior walk-on Richard Wonnell watched the last few minutes of Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament squeaker over Iowa State last Sunday, wishing he and his Rockets teammates were a part of the “big dance” this season.
“Of course I wish I was there,’ said the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Genoa graduate. “Anytime anyone plays Division I basketball, the ultimate goal is to be playing there.”
Alas, the Rockets were ineligible for post-season play this season after receiving a post-season ban from the NCAA for the program’s poor APR rating a few years ago.
“I knew that (ban) was this year and I accepted it a while ago,” Wonnell said. “This year we wanted to play for the regular-season championship in the (Mid-American Conference). After the first couple games we knew Akron and Ohio (University) were better than anyone in the MAC, so we focused on winning the Western Division and we tied with Western Michigan.”
From a numbers standpoint, Wonnell, a three-year letterman, didn’t fill up many box scores for third-year coach head coach Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets, who finished 15-13 and 10-6 in the MAC. Wonnell, however, provided all the intangibles most teams need to help them get over the hump.
“Richard Wonnell is one of the finest people I’ve had a chance to be around,” said Kowalczyk, who last year guided the Rockets to the second-best turnaround in college basketball. UT went from 4-28 in 2010-11 to 19-17 a year ago and advanced to post-season play (CIT) for the first time in five years.
“Richard is without question our most selfless individual and one of our best team defenders,” the coach added. “In a lot of ways he’s helped save our program over the last three years with his tremendous attitude and commitment. He’s not a guy who’s concerned with his role or his minutes. He just wants to do whatever it takes to help us win games and be successful.”
Wonnell said he doesn’t go out of his way to be a “team guy.”
“That’s just my nature,” he said. “Going back to high school, in football I would take on as many (blockers) as I could and let somebody else get the tackle. I’m not one to go for glory. If the team is winning, I feel like I’m doing my job.”
Wonnell said he saw the writing on the wall, as far as how many minutes he could expect this season, when UT brought in 6-9, 240-pound freshman Nathan Booth. The Illinois native started all 28 games and averaged 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“When Nate came in, going through fall practice I realized he was better than me,” Wonnell said. “I accepted he was going to be starting and my minutes were going to go down. Still, I was going to play as hard as I could with the minutes I got. At the beginning of the year I might have taken a step back, but towards the end I regained my rhythm and played pretty well.”
Wonnell played in all 28 games and averaged 12.4 minutes a game. He averaged one point and 2.1 rebounds and shot 50 percent (10-of-20) from the field and 7-of-10 from the free throw line. He also had eight assists, eight blocks and seven steals.
Wonnell’s most productive game came in the penultimate game of the season, when he played 24 minutes against Northern Illinois in UT’s 70-46 victory. Wonnell scored six points and added seven rebounds, one assist and one block.
“That was a pretty good game,” Wonnell said. “Earlier in the week Nate got hurt, so I knew I had to have a really good week. We almost lost to them at Northern (69-64), and I feel I played a played a pretty good game. I have the same focus every game, to play as hard as I can every time I’m on the floor. I didn’t realize I played as much until afterwards.”
Wonnell, who has a 3.1 GPA with a double major in finance and accounting, is three semesters shy of earning his degree. He will be back with the Rockets next season, but who knows how often he will see the court.
Kowalczyk is bringing in 6-10 Vanlue product Zach Garber, the D-IV Co-Player of the Year, and 6-6 Ohio State transfer J.D. Weatherspoon. Boothe will be just a sophomore, so the Rockets will have a lot of depth in the post. Joining them will be all-state guard Jordan Lauf from Napoleon.
Wonnell knows he could have gone to a smaller school and gotten a lot more playing time, but he has no regrets about latching on at UT.
“I’m happy where I’m at,” Wonnell said. “At Toledo I stayed close to home and they’ve given me an opportunity. Not only in basketball, but academically they have given me a great opportunity to move forward. This is where I met my (fraternity) brothers (Sigma Alpha Epsilon), and I met my girlfriend (junior Hannah Ogden) here. I’m loving it here at Toledo.”
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