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UT men rolling
Written by J. Patrick Eaken and Mark Griffin   
Monday, 20 January 2014 09:53

No one is forgetting about Wonnell’s contribution

In his fourth season, Coach Tod Kowalczyk's transformation of the University of Toledo men's basketball program seems complete.

Toledo (13-2, 1-1 MAC) is currently in a three-way tie for second place in the Mid American Conference’s West Division. Two years ago, the Rockets were 4-28.

No one, including Coach “K”, is forgetting three years of contributions from 6-foot-10, 240 pound senior Richard Wonnell, even though the former Genoa Comet is not on the roster this year.

Wonnell2
Then-University of Toledo 6'10, 240 lb.
post Richard Wonnell (genoa) shoots in
the paint in a Mid American Conference
matchup against Eastern Michigan at
Savage Arena. (UT SID file photo)

“Richard was a great teammate who helped our chemistry and was a good guy to have on our team. On the court, he provided us depth at the center position and gave us quality minutes when we needed him to,” Kowalczyk said.

Wonnell, who left the program last May, said Coach “K” let him know how he helped get the program back to solid footing during his three years as a Rocket.

“Before I quit, they had little individual meetings after each season, and he told me that I had a big part in getting the team to where they are,” Wonnell said. “I wouldn’t say I was an all-star on the team, but I would say in my role I did pretty well.

“He even said he was going to give me a scholarship, even if I wasn’t going to play, because the big guy coming was probably going to get more playing time than me, just because of what I’ve done to help get the program to where it is.”

Upon his arrival in 2010, Kowalczyk began to institute a culture of discipline and accountability for a Toledo program that had endured three straight losing seasons following its 2006-07 Mid-American Conference title. When Coach K and Wonnell first arrived in 2010, the program was under NCAA sanctions for violations under a previous coach.

Coach K’s new culture started to produce on-court results in 2011-12 when the Rockets registered the second-best turnaround in the country. Featuring a senior-less roster, UT posted a 15-win improvement with its 19-17 win-loss mark.

"We certainly had a quick turnaround from what we inherited and feel that our program is headed in the right direction," Kowalczyk said. "I'm proud of what our guys did last year, but at the same time we know we have a long way to go. Our goal is to be able to compete for championships on a yearly basis. I think (this) year's team is on that track and look forward to building on the progress we've made."

Last year, Wonnell, a three-year letterman, didn’t fill up many box scores for Kowalczyk’s Rockets, which 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.

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.

“Richard Wonnell is one of the finest people I’ve had a chance to be around,” said Kowalczyk, “Richard is without question our most selfless individual and one of our best team defenders. 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 never went 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 doesn’t stay in touch with his former teammates, but he watches them play whenever he can. Sometimes, that means going to Savage Arena, sometimes it means watching streaming video of games online.

“Actually, I don’t really talk to them much. Even when I was on the team, I really didn’t talk to them that much,” Wonnell said. “I go to the (games) that I can. It interferes with my work schedule quite a bit.”

Wonnell just picked up a second major, and plans to have degrees in accounting and finance next December. One reason he left the team was so he could focus more on studies and keep up with personal finances.

“I have a lot more free time,” Wonnell said. “Now that I’m working instead of playing basketball, I have a lot more money, too.”

Wonnell says he doesn’t have any plans to use his one year of eligibility remaining if he attends graduate school somewhere. He is playing basketball for Sigma Alpha Epsilon in a UT fraternity league.

“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. I’m ‘loving it’ here at Toledo.”

He is interested in coaching someday.

“I have thought about that a lot,” Wonnell said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to, but I’d really like to coach somewhere.”

The Mid-American Conference announced that the UT men's basketball contest at Ohio on Feb. 1 will be televised nationally on ESPNU. Tip-off time for the game is set for 1 p.m. ET. The matchup vs. the Bobcats will be the Rockets’ second game televised by ESPNU this season.

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