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Ondera Hopes His Success Is a Slam Dunk

November 03, 1998|CHRIS FOSTER

Marek Ondera kind of meanders at you, wearing sandals, shorts and a flannel shirt--his usual off-court uniform. You want to ask what the waves are like.

Then he comes at you on the basketball court, his UC Irvine uniform dangling on an inoffensive looking 6-foot-6 body. You want to ask if the intramural tournament is almost over.

Neither image is correct.

"He's sneaky," guard Jerry Green said. "He doesn't play like he looks."

That was apparent when Ondera opened Irvine's Midnight Magic on Oct. 16 with a flying dunk in the dark, wearing glow-in-the-dark rings draped around his neck and shoulders. It seemed a promise of things to come. Teammates already have caught a glimpse of him flying by.

"We were playing in a summer league and Marek dunked one on this big guy, he threw it down so hard the ball went out the door," forward Ben Jones said. "Everyone kind of stopped and looked at him."

Much the way Matt Willard did during the slam-dunk contest at Irvine's Midnight Magic.

"[Ondera] cupped the ball and did this 360 on the opposite side of the basket," Willard said. "I don't know how he did it. He is totally amazing, as far as I was concerned."

It would be far too easy to put Ondera down as a one-act player--although he should come with sound effects . . . Boing-boom.

The dunks get attention, but he has much more to his game.

Ondera, who went to Mill Valley Tamalpais High School, was named the most valuable player in the Pacific Coast Conference after averaging 19 points and seven rebounds at MiraCosta College last season. The other player considered was Palomar guard Jeremy Killian, projected to be a starter at Utah.

His all-round game is such that Irvine Coach Pat Douglass calls him the third-best player on the team . . . and the Anteaters haven't even played a game.

Ondera's leaping ability makes it difficult for other teams to match up against him.

"He can take a 6-4, 6-5 guy inside and take a 6-9 player outside," Douglass said. "He is obviously intelligent. He passes the ball well. If anything, he's too unselfish."

All fine traits. But all most people want to talk about are his dunks. Well, almost everyone.

"Those sandals and shorts are just the Mill Valley look," said forward Sean Jackson, a transfer from California and Ondera's roommate. "He's definitely not a fashion guru."

Not that he's trying to be. But Ondera doesn't want to get labeled as a dunking fool either. He already has been through the look-at-me phase.

"I used to go out and practice them," Ondera said. "I would see a guy do one on television and would go outside and try it. I would do the flashy stuff when I was younger. Now, everything I do I try to do hard."

He had that approach as a kid. But not in basketball. It was the only sport he didn't like.

Then he started growing. He was 6-2 when he was a high school freshman and 6-5 by his sophomore year. It was inevitable he would play basketball. By the end of the season, he was a varsity starter.

"The more I played, the more I feel in love with it," Ondera said. "It wasn't easy at first. I didn't know what I was doing. The first summer league game I played in, they had to tell me where to line up for free throws. I didn't know anything."

Not even his own abilities.

"When I was a sophomore, we were playing H-O-R-S-E and I said, 'Dunk,' " Ondera said. "I went up and dunked it. Everyone got real excited. It just came kind of natural."

As did going to Irvine. He and two friends came south two years ago to attend MiraCosta.

"It's been an extended road trip," Ondera said. "I have two years left and I wanted a UC education. I wasn't going to go to Cal or UCLA. Coach Douglass is a proven winner. It seemed like a good fit."

Right down to his sandals.


Adam Parada, a 6-foot-11 center from Alta Loma High School, has orally committed to play basketball at UCI, Alta Loma Coach Anders Anderson said.

Parada averaged 10 points and eight rebounds last season for Alta Loma and was named first-team All-Mt. Baldy League. He will sign a letter of intent next week.

Irvine has one scholarship left to give for next season.


Injuries and suspensions have slowed the women's basketball team.

Guard Megan Stafford and forward Chelsea Mackey have been suspended. Stafford will miss four games and Mackey two. Irvine Coach Mark Adams would only say they violated team rules.

Forward Char-Pei Chen is out three more weeks because of a back injury. Results from an MRI were negative.

With the injuries, walk-on Cindy Oparah, a 5-10 freshman from Brethren Christian, has been able to impress coaches with her play inside.

"She and her coach came down and asked if they could walk on," Adams said. "We said, 'Sure.' We knew about her, but her skills were not as good as others [we were recruiting]. But she kept getting better and better and better. By the end of the season, everyone had already signed the players they wanted. There are some folks who were surprised that we got her. She's been our best rebounder."


Jamie Pilbeam, a senior at Apple Valley (Minn.) High School, said she will play volleyball at UC Irvine next year.

Pilbeam, a 5-foot-10 setter, was named first-team All-Minnesota last season after leading Apple Valley to a second-place finish in the state tournament.

It was the best news she has had in a while. Her family has been living in a hotel since since a tornado damaged their house last May.

"I wasn't home that night, so I found some place to hold up," Pilbeam said. "I called my mom and she starts saying, 'The roof is gone, the furniture is gone. . . . ' The problem is there was so much damage that there hasn't been enough workers to get to fix everything yet."

Pilbeam said they hoped to move home by Thanksgiving.

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