March 17, 2009
Bumps, bruises, and heart is how Ongenaet plays
When Kristof Ongenaet arrived at Syracuse University for his junior year in 2007, he was virtually unknown. Joining a new class with the likes of Jonny Flynn can't be an easy thing, especially as a junior college transfer. With only two years for him to prove himself and try to help Syracuse make it back to the big dance, Ongenaet had his work cut out for him. Little did he (or anyone else) know he would soon become an uncontested fan favorite, as well as one of the grittiest players on the SU squad.
But one of the best things about Ongenaet is that none of that really mattered. A truly humble player, Kristof doesn't care much for titles or being the best. He cares more about working hard, day in and day out, and letting it show itself on the court.
"I'm pretty much the first guy at practice, and I think I'll be the last guy at the end of practice. That's what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to work as hard as possible, and I think you can see that at the games."
Some would say that Ongenaet comes across as a very aggressive player-- no one can forget his ejection from the second Georgetown game of the season after the refs determined an elbow to DaJuan Summers' head was intentional. He's emerged as a very passionate player, who rebounds offensively and defensively, aiding Syracuse in an area that's been lacking. There's no doubt that Ongenaet's enthusiasm under the basket has been pivotal in the Orange's success on the court, especially in the most recent historical six-overtime win over Connecticut in the Big East tournament. And as hard as Ongenaet works, this seems to be an area in which he excels naturally, feeding off of adrenaline and competitiveness.
"I'm going to go for every ball and try to get the next possession," he said. "That's a big part of our wins and those overtimes, and all that it just comes down to are those possessions."
The Syracuse Orange and Ongenaet personally experienced a physical scare themselves, when during the Big East championship against Louisville Ongenaet fell from the rim, right onto his back and laid motionless for what seemed like hours.
"It was crazy, I mean honestly I was kind of in shock," he said. But always someone looking on the bright side, Ongenaet turned it into a learning experience and a reason to work harder in the upcoming tournament. "It could have been a lot worse. I talked to some doctors, they told me if I moved in the other direction a little bit I could have easily been paralyzed. I was just really fortunate and lucky that I fell kind of on my shoulder and back and instead of my neck. I'm happy to be here right now, and hopefully we can step it up and go from there."
But even though "Kristof" chants could be heard loudly resonating throughout Madison Square Garden, and fans waited in anticipation to see if #12 was hurt, Coach Jim Boeheim never underestimated Ongenaet's strength and determination. "Unless they killed him, he was getting up and playing," he said.
After a fall like he had at the worlds most famous arena will that change the way the senior from Belgium plays? Or does he know what the risks are when he goes out and plays with reckless abandon like Orange fans have become used to seeing on the court this season? Knowing those risks does it make him worry about his style of play?
"Yeah it does make me worry, but that is not the first time that has happened this season. Even during practice that has happened to me not that bad, but still it is part of my game. It hurt and I have a lot injuries and all that, but I figure if we get the W that is is worth it for me. Hopefully we get a couple more W's in the NCAA Tournament and it will be more worth it for me."
Although it may come off a little like tough love, it means a lot to Ongenaet, especially as an outgoing senior. "It feels great. Obviously now I'm going to graduate and I'm going to retire my college jersey. It's just a great feeling that everyone's behind me-- my fans, and my players, and my coaches. It gives me an extra boost for me to play tougher."
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