Windy City Bulls assistant coach brings unique basketball experience to team
Before its sponsorship with Gatorade, the NBA G League was called the NBA Developmental League. Despite the name change, the league still has the same purpose as it has always had–developing players for the NBA. However, players are not the only ones developing their skills in the League.
Ben Uzoh, who is about to turn 31, is an assistant coach for the Windy City Bulls. Prior to becoming a coach through the NBA’s Assistant Coaching Program, Uzoh played professionally as a guard in the NBA, the NBA G League, and internationally in Russia and Belgium. Yet, on top of all of these experiences, Uzoh also has another unique basketball that has connected him to his family’s roots.
The Nigerian Senior Men’s National Team
Though Uzoh was born in Houston, both of his parents are from Nigeria, allowing Uzoh to play for their national team.
Uzoh started playing for the national team in 2013 after missing the 2012 Summer Olympics. “I told myself that I would represent my country where my parents are from [with] the next opportunity in 2013. I’ve been a valued member since,” Uzoh said. “It’s been a pretty unique experience, the culture, diving into my roots, and connecting with people and the fans growing the game of basketball in Africa.”
Being a part of the national team has allowed Uzoh a first-hand experience with what the sports culture is like in Nigeria. “It’s kind of different from obviously growing up here in America. I was born here in the states, but I’ve gone back, I’ve lived in Nigeria for years at a time. The difference is that sports can be a tool to change your life over here, but over there sports is not a component that can save lives or to change lives,” Uzoh said.
The culture is starting to change now, according to Uzoh, as soccer, basketball, and female players from Nigeria by the youth are looking up to them as trailblazers. “The resources are better. People are going back. Fellow Nigerians of all different lanes are putting resources back into the continent. The federation has taken its time as far as growing, making adjustments to help kids, the youth. They’ve taken more pride in their youth, the government. Things are slowly starting to change,” Uzoh said.
On the basketball court, Uzoh has contributed to the national team at its best time in team history. In 2015, the team won its first ever AfroBasket championship, automatically qualifying them for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
About the Olympic experience, Uzoh said, “That was an amazing experience. To share that with my family, to obviously represent Nigeria on a world stage. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am so glad that I was able to be a part of and then to have success relatively for me and my brothers. Those are memories that I cherish for the rest of my life.”
Leading up to the Olympics that year, the Nigerian basketball team played a friendly against Team USA in Houston. In that game, Uzoh dunked on fellow Houstonian DeAndre Jordan. “It was the first quarter. I went down the lane, and I dunked on one of the best players in the world. That was pretty dope,” Uzoh said.
Coaching with the Windy City Bulls
Uzoh is currently in his first season as an assistant coach with the Windy City Bulls.
“We’ve really liked him from the moment we got on the phone with him,” head coach Charlie Henry said. “He’s been great for us, he’s been great. One, he’s been great with the guys. He’s obviously a former player [who’s] experienced a lot, played in a lot of places, been in a lot of situations. So I think he’s done a really nice job of connecting with the guys.”
Guard Thomas Wilder said, “He’s a free spirit. He’s a really outgoing guy. He’s one of those guys when he walks into the locker room he kind of just changes the atmosphere and change the vibe in the room.”
“It’s been great,” Uzoh said, adding that he is thankful to be a part of the Bulls organization at the age he is at. “To learn, to grow, to take my love so to speak, and to be an extension of the Bulls system. It’s been a great opportunity for me.”
As a guard, Uzoh said that playing at that position has helped him transition into being a coach. “Kind of being a point guard, you’re a coach on the floor. That’s my position that I’ve been playing throughout my playing career. [Coaching] is really just seeing it from a different lens, so to speak, suit and tie as opposed to jersey and shorts.
“But like I said, being a floor general you got to lead guys, you got to lead by example, you have to coach guys up, you have to know plays, know positions one through five. There’s a different lens that you naturally have to have on as a point guard, so I think that’s helped me make this transition,” Uzoh said.
Henry said, “I haven’t discussed in detail as far as his future. He’s very sharp, he’s very smart, he relates well with our guys, he relates well with people in general. If coaching is what he continues on with, he’s one that’s going to rise in the profession very quickly.”