Jessica Ogunnorin: champion of change

Jessica Ogunnorin, above, comes to Stony Brook from Greece. The senior guard is vocal about her ability to embrace change. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

Jessica Ogunnorin, above, comes to Stony Brook from Greece. The senior guard is vocal about her ability to embrace change. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

Senior guard Jessica Ogunnorin is definitely a long way from home, but is making the most of her last season at Stony Brook.

Hailing from Athens, Greece, adjusting is what she does best. Before joining the Seawolves, Ogunnorin spent two seasons with the University of California–Riverside Highlanders. In California, she found her work was cut out for her.

“The major difference is athleticism,” she said. People here [in the United States] are stronger, faster, more explosive.”

But she also found the American players are more on her level. Eye-level, that is.

“I think something I had to deal with and understand was the difference in height,” Ogunnorin said. “I was always one of the tallest players back in Greece so I used to be the post back there. Then I come here and I see people my height playing the three position, so that was an adjustment.”

“One of the strongest parts of my game was rebounding, even back at home,” she said. “I’ve just embraced that and I love rebounding so it’s really one of my goals to rebound as much as I can whenever we play.”

After arriving at SBU, Ogunnorin had to adjust to new teammates and new coaches. Former head coach Beth O’Boyle’s departure meant more change, which she welcomed with open arms.

“I left my old school, I came here, I learned how to adjust to coaches,” Ogunnorin said. “At this point, I embrace changes, I think that changes are always for the better, so one of the things that’s really important is just buying into the new concepts, the new ways of playing, and we’ll get the best out of it.”

Ogunnorin said bringing her California experiences to New York only helped her grow as a player and a person.

“Prior to going to my last school, I hadn’t even been to the United States so it definitely helped me,” she said. “I learned a lot about the culture, the style of game, my first team was really a team full of athletes so it really prepared me for this conference and any conference I would go to. I learned a lot from that experience and I try to take everything that I learned from there and use it for the better.”

But after sitting out her sophomore season, she made a big impact at Stony Brook her junior year, which she started out unsure if she would even play.

“For me, it was really like a gift because I transferred from a D-I and we weren’t sure that I was going to play so I had to wait from the NCAA so I was really grateful for that,” Ogunnorin said. “Prior to last year, I had sat out so I was really glad I was given a chance to be part of the team that makes such history.”

Part of making Seawolves history included breaking Albany’s 38 conference game winning streak.  On March 1, 2014, Ogunnorin was the top scorer against Albany with 18 points, picking up nine rebounds along the way.

“It was a really big thing for us,” she said. “Albany is one of the best teams in the conference and we respect them and their work and everything. It was important for us to know that we’re able to do that and by being consistent and focused, we can have good results.”

But to be named to the America East All-Championship team, the work started on the West Coast.

“One of the main reasons I decided to come to the U.S. was to be challenged,” she said. It was really tough in the beginning as a freshman [because] I wasn’t as strong as I am now. I think the way I overcame that was by lifting, focusing on just getting stronger, eating better, just being in the best shape I could.”

Now as a senior, Ogunnorin said she wants to take on a larger leadership role on the team. This year, she and Sabre Proctor are the only two seniors on the roster.

“I want to be able to give back now,” she said. “All the things that I learned from transferring, different coaches…I told myself that I would give back, teach all the values and habits that I learned, and just try to be a really good role model for my teammates on the court and off the court.”

As for personal goals, Ogunnorin said she just wants to enjoy her last season as a college basketball player.

“I want to be the best athlete [I’ve become] all these years,” she said. “I told myself I want to have really good experiences and memories with my teammates and make the most out of it and give my all.”

This article was originally published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Statesman.