Originally created 08/05/99

Umoh plays her part



WINNIPEG, Manitboa -- Itoro Umoh's role on the basketball court may have changed, but her personality has not.

"I talk a lot, and sometimes that gets me in trouble," said the former Clemson and Hephzibah High School star who now comes off the bench to add a spark to the U.S. women's team in the Pan American Games.

"If I don't start, that's fine. At Clemson, I started all the time, but I'm having to adapt. We're trying to get a gold medal, so everybody has to do their job."

Umoh has done her job well, adding strong defense to the team that finished third in pool play following a 62-46 win over Canada on Wednesday.

The Americans play Cuba in the medal round today, and if they can avenge an earlier 95-64 loss, they would play for the gold medal Saturday.

The Americans have won three and lost to Brazil and Cuba, the top two teams in the tournament.

Umoh, known as "Mo" to her teammates, plays behind Michelle Marciniak, the team's leading scorer. Marciniak is four years older and has played professionally.

"Mo gives us good things coming off the bench," said head coach Nell Fortner. "You've got to have a spark coming off the bench."

As the point guard, Umoh provides plenty of energy, constantly talking to her teammates, playing tenacious defense and crashing the board for rebounds even though she is only 5-foot-7.

Umoh got 14 of her 19 minutes against Canada in the second half, when the Canadians were held to only 18 points.

"Coach doesn't like me going in there for the rebounds, but it's tempting," Umoh said. "If I come up with the ball, it's OK. One of my strengths is defense. That's what I can bring to this team."

Umoh said she is happiest when she's running the offense on court.

"The best part of basketball is when you're all on the same page," she said. "I'm always talking when I'm in there. The point guard has to tell people where to be. They don't get mad about it, though."

Marciniak has led the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game, followed by forward Lynn Pride with 12.2 points and nearly eight rebounds a game.

Pride will be a senior at Kansas this year. Texas senior Edwinna Brown is averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists. Against Canada, Marciniak scored 17, Brown 15 and Pride 9.

Winning a medal will be difficult. If the U.S. team can get by Cuba, it probably would face undefeated Brazil. The Americans led Brazil 47-34 at the half, only to lose 77-72.

"We weren't ourselves against Cuba," Umoh said. "They don't know us. It won't be easy, but we're ready for both teams now. Against Brazil, we had a mental breakdown in the second half. We can't have any more mental breakdowns. Brazil is just too consistent in their play."

Umoh said she has enjoyed the Pan Am experience, especially meeting people from other countries and cultures.

"I'm having a lot of fun," she said. "And I want to send a hello and big hug to my old coach, Wendell Lofton."

When the games are over, Umoh, who graduated this year, will be an assistant basketball coach at Liberty College.

"I'll be able to work out with the team and stay in shape," she said. "Then I can try out again for the WNBA next year."