This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s North Carolina edition.
With the moon still hovering over the Charlotte skyline early on a September morning, Braxton Ogbueze hops out of his parents’ teal Saturn and walks across the vacant University City YMCA parking lot.
It’s 4:55 a.m., and the United Faith Christian senior point guard has beaten most of the employees here. “Nothing new,” according to one member.
Braxton has an urgency in his stride as he approaches the double doors. He’s a good 10 steps in front of his father, Godwin, and his mother, Sharon, almost as if he’s late for his own sold-out, nationally televised game.
The irony is that he’s rushing to launch hundreds of jump shots and run through dozens of drills that no one will ever see.
All because of one principle.
“Focus,” says Braxton, a Florida recruit who is rated No. 35 in the ESPNU 100. “My success, my drive, everything; it all has to do with focus.”
And it’s not your average level of focus. Braxton’s would be abnormal for a 10-year NBA veteran, let alone a 17-year-old.
“He’s definitely a different type of guy,” says Rodney Purvis, a senior combo guard at Upper Room Christian Academy who teamed up with Braxton during the AAU season with the CP3 All-Stars. “Not in a bad way. He’s got that type of focus that you just know will make him successful.”
“THE PLAN WORKED.”
Godwin had always hoped his love for soccer would rub off on his sons Klem, 21, and Braxton. A native of Nigeria, Godwin played three years at Clemson and led the Tigers in scoring with 17 goals as a freshman in 1975.
“Once they picked up a basketball,” Godwin says, “it was over.”
Eventually, Sharon nailed a basket to the big oak tree in the frontyard and let the boys duke it out for hours at a time.
“The tree had to serve as the backboard,” Braxton says. “Sounds crazy, but we loved that goal. There were some battles.”
The scenario was typical; big brother beats up on little brother in hopes that he’ll toughen him up and make him better.
“The thought was that if he could almost beat me, he could dominate kids his own age,” Klem says. “The plan worked.”
In his first year of school ball as a seventh-grader at Southwest Middle School, Braxton dominated to the tune of 22 points per game.
“It was just so easy,” Braxton recalls. “All those years of playing with my brother definitely helped. I did whatever I wanted out there.”
Still, he had to develop a few fundamental skills along the way. Top of the list? A jump shot.
“When I started knocking down jump shots, I started liking it more and more,” Braxton says. “I started to want to be the best shooter. So I practiced to perfect it. After that, things really started to roll.”
By the start of his freshman year, Braxton got tangible proof of how far he’d come one afternoon when he opened the mailbox and tore open his first recruitment letter, from Virginia.
“That’s when I knew I was on my way,” he says.
“WE WEREN'T GONNA LOSE.”
Minutes before United Faith took on Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) last January at the Greensboro Coliseum, Braxton anxiously paced around the locker room studying the faces of his United Faith teammates.
His focus had become contagious.
“We had that look,” says Braxton. “We weren’t gonna lose that game. No matter what. We weren’t gonna lose.”
Oak Hill was ranked No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50 at the time, and it’s games like this when the meaning of Braxton’s last name really resonates. Ogbueze (pronounced og-boo-ee-zay) means “King Conqueror” to the Obi tribes of West Africa, and never was that name more fitting than after he scored 31 points to lift United Faith to a 90-88 win over Oak Hill.
“He’s tough to guard, that’s for sure,” says Quinn Cook, Oak Hill’s point guard last season and a current Duke freshman. “He can score from everywhere on the floor and he’s really athletic. He’s a star.”
After that game, autograph-seekers and picture-takers began popping up more frequently. Braxton even received a letter from a group of fans in New York asking him to sign and mail back four enclosed index cards.
“I still don’t know how they got our address,” Sharon says. “It’s wild, but it doesn’t affect him at all. He’s still a regular kid.”
Actually, Braxton is so regular that he’s, well, irregular.
Here’s a kid who doesn’t have any social media pages, doesn’t e-mail and rarely texts. He’d rather watch CNN than “Jersey Shore” and prefers grilled chicken and veggies to burgers and pizza.
“Road trips are interesting with Braxton,” says former United Faith coach Shaun Wiseman. “We usually have to find him a Subway. He’s extremely comfortable with who he is. It’s really inspiring.”
“BRAXTON'S SO DRIVEN IT'S SCARY”
Back in March, Braxton chose Florida over Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, Virginia and Clemson for one reason.
“They wanted me the most,” he says. “My dad always told me I should go where I was most wanted. That was Florida. I’m really excited about getting down there, but right now I’m focused on my senior year.”
That means having a dominant season. This winter, former Demon Deacon and Hornet Muggsy Bogues will take over for Wiseman after the Falcons lost in the NCISAA Class 1A state title game last year.
“That stays with me,” says Braxton, who averaged 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game for the Falcons last year.
“Braxton’s so driven it’s scary,” adds ESPN director of recruiting Paul Biancardi. “He has the talent and the successful traits that you need to be a champion.”
Unfortunately for Braxton, he won’t have another shot at a state title. At press time, United Faith was banned from the postseason for two years because of a recruiting violation.
But that won’t stop him from making the hour-long drive to the University City YMCA five days a week at 4 a.m.
On this particular morning, Braxton finishes his workout and slips into his sandals. “This was a little easier today,” he says “I’ve gotta do harder drills tomorrow.”
Already thinking about his next conquest, the King Conqueror smiles.