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Woodbridge's Oenning Opts for Big-Name Bruins

February 06, 1996|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the recruiting letters arrived, her last name was butchered more than a Christmas turkey. But if Cal State Northridge, St. Mary's and Baker (Kansas) didn't know how to spell Jamie Oenning's name, Orange County did.

She was a star here, a Woodbridge team captain, starting guard on the Southern Section Division II-AA championship team, the leader on and off the court for the Warriors.

She was a reporter's dream, an articulate, insightful quote who drew from Shakespeare, Lou Holtz and John Wooden--not necessarily in that order.

A good student. Enthusiastic. Conscientious. A be-true-to-your-school kind of girl.

She was a Times all-county first-team player, regarded as the second-best leader in Orange County behind local legend Nicole Erickson. She was a first-team All-Southern Section player, regarded as a good shooter, good ballhandler, maybe not quite as quick as some.

But a hard worker, a coach's dream.

But instead of going to Northridge or St. Mary's or Baker, Oenning decided to go big-time. She chose the highest-profile school recruiting her--UCLA.

This story is not, so far, the one of Cinderella fitting into the glass sneaker. Nor is it the story of a miserable life spent watching someone else shoot the ball.

This is, simply, a story of someone who found big-time college sports more overwhelming than she could have imagined, who has the good sense to keep her perspective, and the good fortune to have time on her side--if not on her hands.

Oenning played in 26 of 27 games her freshman season, averaging 11 minutes for the Bruins, a team trying to overcome its little-sister status to rival USC.

She is playing less this season. Yes, it's tough not to squirm a little on the bench.

Had Oenning followed Corona del Mar's Molly Flint and gone to a smaller school--Flint chose to walk-on at St. Mary's a year earlier--she might have won the starting job in the seventh game, as Flint did.

But she chose UCLA.

Even the mention of it means something to her.

"I'm really happy," Oenning said. "There are so many people who would love to be where I am. I mean, I'm getting to play at UCLA."

Even if she's not getting to play very much. Her minutes are down to about eight, and she has appeared in only nine of 15 games. She's one for 10 shooting, has seven assists, four steals and seven turnovers.

A shooting guard at Woodbridge, Oenning was recruited to be the backup point guard at UCLA, and then back up both guard positions thereafter. She knew UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier, now in her third year, also was recruiting one of the best point guards in the nation, Erica Gomez, from New Jersey. Gomez is the freshman starter at UCLA. The Bruins' shooting guard is Nickey Hilbert, a junior.

"Next year, Jamie will be our first point guard off the bench," Olivier said. "To be honest, she's such a huge asset to our program. Maybe when you look at it and see she's not playing a lot of minutes, it doesn't seem that way, but she works so hard at practice. She helps us with recruiting, she loves UCLA, she sells the program. She's everything we want in a student athlete."

Olivier credits Oenning for helping UCLA recruit Gomez and the rest of this year's freshman class that was rated sixth nationally by the Blue Star Report; next year's class, Edison's Marie Philman, Woodbridge's Melanie Pearson (Oenning's best friend), Mission Hills Alemany's Carly Funicello and Perris' Maylana Martin, is rated second in the nation.

"Jamie's had a lot to do with the people we signed," Olivier said. "I wish I could get her more minutes."

So does Oenning.

"I'm a small fish in a big pond, for sure," Oenning said. "I don't think I'm really frustrated or disillusioned, or that I've been misled; I'm frustrated because it's hard not to be out there and not to play.

"I'm not as frustrated as some people who aren't playing," she continued. "Everyone wants to play. That's why you play sports."

Oenning tries to avoid that mind game of "What if?" though it occasionally creeps into her thoughts.

"I can't think that if I'd have gone somewhere else, I'd be a go-to person," she said. "I couldn't trade away the opportunities I've had at UCLA. It's bigger than basketball."

For her, it was "exposure to greater diversity."

"I didn't realize how valuable that would be until I got here," she said, explaining the allure of UCLA. "There's a wider range of opportunities education-wise. This is the best of the best in terms of students and professors. There are also enormous opportunities for networking, especially in L.A., with people who have connections in the sports and entertainment industry. Everyone knows somebody somewhere. That's going to be great in three years, when I'm graduating."

Oenning wants to major in communications and minor in business. Once she graduates, her minutes on the court probably won't mean a whole lot.

And that's the point she would stress to those who would follow her into NCAA athletics: "College is not about how many minutes you get to play."

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