This is the 11th installment of “Cat Trax,” a series of feature stories that will periodically appear on the UNH athletics web site.
By Patrick Villanova, UNH Athletic Media Relations
Although he may not know what the future holds, Radar Onguetou (Yaounde, Cameroon) knows what lies behind him, in the past. He doesn’t deny who he is or feign an identity. His story is unique, diverse, and Onguetou is willing to share.
The six-foot-five-inch forward for the University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team came to the United States in 2004 from his native Cameroon. After spending his junior and senior years of high school at New Hampton Prep in New Hampton, N.H., Onguetou landed a full-scholarship at UNH – an opportunity he has always valued immensely.
“I come from a country where not many young people have opportunity. You have a situation that many people where I’m from dream to have, would even kill to have,” Onguetou said. “This experience that I’ve made here makes me want to succeed, not only for myself, but succeed for the young people who are just like me back home.”
A political science major, Onguetou will graduate next month despite only being a junior, and hopes to pursue a Master’s in public administration here at UNH next year while also playing basketball. But the dynamic Onguetou is just as likely to discuss the affects that globalization and modernization have on Third World countries as he is to talk about the ins and outs of the game of basketball.
“As a coach, the impressive thing about Radar is it’s not just about basketball,” said Bill Herrion, who just completed his fourth season as head coach of the men’s basketball team. “He is a young man that has really maximized the entire college experience academically, athletically and socially. Very rarely do you meet a young man that truly knows what he wants to do with his life and his future. Radar definitely knows what he wants to do and that is what makes him unique.”
Onguetou feels a strong obligation to give back to his country and countries like it. He dreams of working for an organization that provides children in impoverished countries with the same type of opportunity to succeed that he received.
“I feel like there are more young people like me who are really talented, but they don’t have the same opportunity because my country is really poor,” he explained. “They don’t even have the chance to prove that they can achieve something in their life.”
Onguetou is among numerous Cameroonians who have been brought to the United States for the chance to play basketball and get an education. Onguetou’s cousin, Alfred Aboya, played for UCLA from 2005-08 and is currently pursuing his Master’s. Onguetou mentioned Luc Mbah a Moute, current Milwaukee Buck and former UCLA Bruin, as another prominent Cameroonian who has found opportunity and success in the United States.
“We all know what it’s like to come from a poor environment. Most of us who come here from countries of the Third World, we’re not complaining a lot because we know that when we look back, there’s worse,” he said. “We all have a strong sense of community.”
Onguetou explained the extensive problems that plague his country, including corruption, unemployment and lack of opportunity, which he says all lead to juvenile delinquency.
“Someone who is a smart person, good sports player, ends up in the wrong (situation), because he didn’t have the opportunity to do something good with his life.”
Known for his physicality and tough rebounding on the court, away from basketball Onguetou is known for his involvement in various activities and groups around campus, most notably the Black Student Union.
“My identity is a basketball player. I spend most of my time on the basketball court. I am here for two reasons and I never lose sight of these reasons: I am here to get my degree and I am here to play basketball,” he said. “Now when I have time, as much as possible, I’m trying to be involved in other activities, which I feel can be productive.
“I come from a different background that gave me a different perspective and I would like to share this perspective with other fellow black students,” he said.
Although black students tend to comprise the majority of the BSU, Onguetou stresses that that the organization is a diverse group that welcomes all students. The BSU has also provided a support system of sorts for Onguetou, as he continues to adapt to life in the United States.
“I come from a country where I was (in) the majority. I discovered that I was black when I moved to New Hampshire because I realized that it does matter. You stand out,” he said. “I’m aware that every time I walk somewhere, people are more likely to notice me because the color of my skin. I don’t say that it’s racism, but it’s something that I’ve learned to be aware of.”
But Onguetou has never shied away from the spotlight. This January, he introduced Provost and Executive Vice President Bruce Mallory at a University-sponsored Martin Luther King Jr. celebratory event. Earlier this year, he even sang the National Anthem before a volleyball game at the Holly Young Invitational.
In addition to the BSU, Onguetou is also involved in the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. “It’s pretty interesting. I assist in the meetings and I’ve learned a lot about what they plan to do to improve the community life.”
Onguetou was drawn to SAAC because he strongly believes that athletes have an obligation to be role models for their communities. “We don’t represent ourselves. We represent the University, we represent the program. I think SAAC is really strong in emphasizing this type of commitment we should have as athletes.”
Cathy Coakley, who heads-up SAAC as the Coordinator of Student-Athlete Development, thinks Radar is a fine representative of the University. “Radar is a great ambassador for the athletic department in terms of his presence on campus,” Coakley said. “When I walk through campus he is always surrounded by people, or when he goes to eat at the MUB (Memorial Union Building) he is always sitting and talking with people, and not necessarily just his teammates.”
With a full plate, Onguetou must prioritize and manage his time well to fit everything in. If something must get left out, however, Onguetou finds someone to take his place – even if it is a teammate.
“Radar really epitomizes the term ‘student-athlete,’” Coakley said. “He’s not just an athlete, he is very involved with things that go on here on campus. And if there is something he can’t make it to, Radar doesn’t shirk his responsibilities. He does a good job communicating and getting his teammates involved.”
Those teammates hold Onguetou in high regard.
“He's the kind of person everyone needs to encounter in their lifetime – a great person, friend, and role model,” senior co-captain Tyrece Gibbs stated. “He'll tell you when you are wrong and be the first person in your corner when you need it.”
While he has not been back to his hometown of Yaounde, or seen his family in nearly six years, Onguetou keeps everything in perspective and keeps those in mind who will never get an opportunity like he has. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘Man, it might be a bit tough for you to be away from home?’ Yeah, it’s tough, but when I look (back) there are tougher situations,” he said. “That’s the motivation to work as hard as possible to reach my objective, so I cannot be in the situation that many people are in where I’m coming from.”
Although Onguetou will graduate May 23, he had originally planned on not participating in the commencement ceremony because his parents will not be present to see their son. Upon telling his family that he would not walk at graduation, Onguetou’s father implored that he must, even if they will not be there to witness it.
“Everything that I did (at UNH), I didn’t do for myself – I did for my parents. Not having my parents at graduation makes everything that I’ve done not seem as important,” he said. “It’s not that I neglect what I’ve done, it just would have had a different meaning if my parents were here.”
The distance between Onguetou and both his family and homeland, however, is not the only thing that weighs heavy on his heart. Last summer, his best friend, Menghe, who came with him from Cameroon to play basketball at New Hampton, collapsed and died while playing in a pickup game at Adelphi University.
“We have pretty much the same background. We came here for the same reason,” he said. “It was a really painful thing. Since then I told myself I will be carrying the load for both of us.”
Onguetou was recently named to the five-member America East All-Academic Team, although he said he doesn’t need to be recognized for his academic success – for he has larger aspirations.
“It’s not because I succeed that I’m going to be proud,” Onguetou said. “Yes, I’m going to be proud, but what I can do for the young people who are like me. My main goal is to focus on the youth, provide opportunity for some to come study here, and give back to the community where I come from.”