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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Onna Charles Women’s Basketball 2004-08

Onna Charles at UL 2004-2008

Points: 1,047

FG Pct: 36.1

FT Pct: 77.6

Rebounds: 432

Steals: 76

UL Record: 73-50

Onna Charles vital part of special era for Cajun women

By Bruce Brown

Athletic Network

Green light – two magical words to a shooter in basketball.


As in, “Any time you have an open look, you have a green light to shoot the ball.”


From the time she arrived on the UL campus in 2004, New Iberia product Onna Charles heard those confidence-boosting words from late coach J. Kelley Hall.


Charles was on hand for some of the best seasons in Ragin’ Cajun women’s basketball history (22-9, 18-10, 25-9).


More than that, she was an integral part of that success, scoring 1,047 points in four seasons to join other accomplished players occupying that plateau.


Scoring 1,000 points was definitely a big accomplishment,” Charles said. “I could have had more if I’d been allowed to play to my fullest potential. I could have climbed higher on the list.”


Indeed, Charles averaged 7.3, 10.4 and 11.5 points per game her first three years and seemed destined for a big senior year. But Hall left for the University of Cincinnati and her role changed under new coach Errol Rogers.


Rogers called “red light” and Charles averaged just 5.8 points as the Cajuns finished 8-22.


Coach Hall saw the extra work I put in, how I took 1,000 (extra) shots a day,” Charles said. “But Coach Rogers said it was his team now and I didn’t get much statistics. One time I played 10 minutes and had 15 points, and he took me out of the game.


But,” she added, “when he took away basketball, it made me work even harder in the classroom. I was the first in my family to get a college degree.”


Charles earned a degree in sociology, with a psychology minor, and is now a licensed sales agent for AAA insurance living in Tomball, Texas, near Houston.


I’m a pretty happy people person,” Charles said. “In college, I had friends from different cultures, races and ethnic backgrounds. When I took a sociology course, I loved it. I was involved in a project where we learned how others lived, and really found it interesting.


Houston is very diverse. I have friends from many cultures, and have tasted many different foods.


I was able to work in my field out of college, at the Gulf Coast Center, but I figured I would work eventually at the corporate level. I just didn’t know it would be this soon.”


Charles, who initially thought she would try for professional basketball, still hits the gym whenever possible. She also counsels girls, and coaches, with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter and is active in a group called Women of Influence.


She always seems to be in motion, just as she was while maneuvering for open shots for most of her Cajun career.


Charles set a career mark with 35 points against Troy in 2006 and hit six 3-pointers in a 23-point effort against the Texas Longhorns in another contest.


Against Troy, I was in a zone,” she said. “I was in a rhythm. When that happens, you stay in the zone and continue to keep producing. If you’re a shooter, you keep shooting. When they took me out, I had no idea I had 35.


It was great to hit 6-of-6 treys against Texas, competing against the best. I think I fouled out of that game. We could have beat them.”


She was also nearly automatic at the free throw line, hitting 87.2 percent as a junior and 77.6 percent for her career.


The secret of her success?


I shoot the ball the same way every time,” Charles said. “I don’t think at all. I’ve still got my stroke. Actually, it’s gotten better. I took two months off, got back in the gym, and started hitting free throws, and other guys were asking, ‘Where are you from?’ I make sure to tell them, ‘Louisiana.’ ”


Charles quickly bonded with then-senior Anna Petrakova as a UL freshman in 2004-05 and has remained close with the Russian star – once again embracing other cultures along the way. She remembers that initial campaign, and two that followed, as special times.


I remember how we came together as a team, how we pushed through to get into the NCAA Tournament – something that hadn’t been done in a long time,” she said. “We got to live that dream.


Coach Hall pushed us above and beyond. He was an awesome coach. We had film study and scouting reports. We were always ready for our opponent. Everybody pushed hard to win. We were determined to win.


He told me if I had any open looks, to shoot the ball,” added Charles, who hit 41.6 percent from the field as a freshman. “That was all I needed to know. My teammates would run plays for me.”


As one of seven children of Herbert and Brenda Charles, Onna came naturally to her desire to excel.


We still compete,” Charles said. “Two older sisters live down the street. We still go to the gym and play. I don’t think that will ever go away.


Plus, I competed against guy cousins in every sport. That really made me tough. I surprised them. They said, ‘You’re, like, good.’ I still play basketball every day, when I can.”


Charles flourished at New Iberia Senior High, scoring 1,595 points under coach Robert Pickney including 23.1 per game as a senior, and found time for volleyball, coached by Ron Hebert.


Volleyball was fun, and I grew to have a love for it,” she said. “But when I practiced, it was basketball. Coach Pick was always smiling, positive, telling you you can do anything.


I view he and his wife as family.”


And, to this day, that remains a vital core element for Charles, who thrived in Hall’s unique basketball clan.


I’m grateful for parents who gave me a strong faith and a strong foundation at home,” she said.


With that foundation, you can find your way, no matter what color light is blinking at you.

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Onna, on front row, 3rd from left, in pink shirt and black and pink skirt, with her 2006 teammates. 


Click here for Onna’s Athletic Network profile.

Click here for the  Women’s Basketball Photo Gallery and the year you wish to view. 

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.