The assassin from Eldoret

Dakota Ratley

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A young kid steps back behind the three-point line. He shoots the basketball. It finds the bottom of the net. The court is outside, the game is in Kenya and Tylor Ongwae is really good at basketball.

Ongwae was 15 years old whenever he picked up the game.

So, how does a kid who picked up the game at 15 outplay those that have been playing since five? Hard work, Ongwae says.

“I know I’m behind because I started late,” he says, “I work hard, I put a lot of time working on my game.”

Ongwae attended Friends School Kamusinga in Kimilili, Kenya. There he led his school to the national finals after winning the Western province championships in 2009. It was there he caught the eye of coach Tony Mauldin.

Mauldin began his career as a coach in Texas. Eventually, he moved to Kenya.

Mauldin talked about how Ongwae caught his eye. He listed the obvious: his 6’8” frame, his ability to shoot from the perimeter and his defense. He also listed another trait that Ongwae has become known for.

“He always played better at the end when the game was on the line, that’s a rare trait. Not many kids do that,” he said.

Ongwae’s talents soon brought him halfway around the globe to Bossier City. It was there where he began his collegiate career.

The Kenyan only suited up for one year for Bossier Parish Community College. In his first year in America, he avaraged 11 for the Cavaliers.

It was in Bossier City where ULM head coach Keith Richard first heard of Tylor Ongwae. Richard sat in on a practice, and took note of his skills.

After Cross left for Monroe, Ongwae went on to Ranger College in Ranger, Texas. He scored 17 points a game in his one year there.

It was then that ULM’s head basketball coach Keith Richard decided that Ongwae was ready for Division I.

Ongwae did not miss a beat. He averaged 16 points per game against tougher competition.

Richard had high praise for Ongwae, not just for his efforts on the court, but on campus.

“If you want the definition of a student-athlete, it’s Tylor Ongwae. That’s who he is,” he said.

Richard said that Ongwae emerged as a leader for the team.

“He doesn’t take a day off,” Richard said.

That kind of work ethic rubbed off on this year’s edition of the Warhawks. Ongwae led the Warhawks from a 10-17 record in his junior year to a 24-14 record in his senior season.

That impression was felt by sophomore point guard Nick Coppola.

“When you see someone going so hard out there it really gives you know choice but to follow his lead,” he said. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”

The leadership gave the Warhawk basketball one of its best seasons in school history. ULM was able to grab the three seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Georgia Southern ended that dream in the semifinals. ULM fell to the Eagles 44-43. That was one of the hardest games for Ongwae. He was held scoreless.

“I didn’t play the way I was expected to play as the leader of the team,” Ongwae said.

Coach Richard said that Ongwae took the loss personally.

Ongwae has got his redemption in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). He averaged 20 points over the five games ULM played. He was a key component in the Warhawks reaching the finals of the CBI.

More than just scoring, he provided the clutch time performances that he was brought from Kenya for. The Warhawks got through the first three rounds of the CBI, only outscoring opponents by an average of four points.

In the game against Eastern Michigan in the first round of the CBI with the game tied with less than a minute to go Ongwae held the ball.  He rose up from the floor after stepping back behind the arc. The ball flew from his fingertips and found the bottom of the net. The court was in Monroe, the game was in a postseason tournament and Tylor Ongwae is still really good at basketball.