Halfway through his college basketball career, Onno Steger was at a crossroads.

Steger, a 2016 graduate of Upper Arlington, was hampered by a back injury as a sophomore at Western Carolina after a successful freshman season that saw him start the Catamounts' final 21 games.

Then the team underwent a coaching change when Larry Hunter, who had recruited Steger, retired and was replaced by Mark Prosser.

As it turned out, Steger thrived more during his final two seasons in a guard-oriented system than he ever could have expected.

Steger started all 63 of his team's games as a junior and senior, serving as a captain and surpassing 1,000 career points on his final basket to provide what he hopes is a springboard into a professional career overseas.

"I learned so much that (sophomore) year. Without those struggles, I couldn't have flourished," Steger said. "I think I can fit into any system. I can play a '3' (small forward), I can play a '4' (power forward). If I need to play (point guard), I can do that. I did well with coach Prosser's system and I was excited to be in that system. It was such a fun offense to play. As a hooper, you dream about that."

Even at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Steger was at his best away from the basket.

This past season, he averaged 12.8 points and 4.7 rebounds and shot 42.8 percent from 3-point range, ranking 15th nationally. Largely thanks to an offense that averaged 12.5 points more per game than it did the previous year, Western Carolina improved from 7-25 in 2018-19 -- when Steger averaged 11.3 points -- to 19-12 this season.

"That role was made for him. He could play on the perimeter, set ball screens defensively and hold his own inside," said Prosser, whose late father, Skip Prosser, coached Xavier and Wake Forest. "Teams had to guard him. If (opponents) put a traditional power forward on Onno, that was a matchup we could take advantage of. It didn't matter who we told him to guard, he could do it. Onno's a tough kid."

Following a high school career in which he helped UA to a Division I state runner-up finish in 2014 and was honorable mention all-state as a senior, Steger appeared in all 32 games as a freshman for Western Carolina, but started just two of 27 games the next year as he recovered from his back injury.

UA coach Tim Casey recalled having to tell Steger's seventh-grade coach to keep him on the team when he was in danger of being cut.

"I told him, 'The heck you are cutting him.' I saw growth, development and potential in (Steger) even then," Casey said. "He developed into a great leader. His work ethic is outstanding and he made steady progress through our program. I am not sure I remember when he broke into our starting lineup, but you could just see it coming. He's always been big with wide shoulders, and he just had that presence where you knew he had the ability to explode."

Steger scored 758 points the past two seasons and finished with 1,002 for his career after converting a three-point play with 57 seconds left in a 97-75 loss to East Tennessee State on March 8 in a Southern Conference semifinal in Asheville, North Carolina.

"I'm glad it happened, but I'd rather win 1,000 games than score 1,000 points," Steger said. "(1,000 points) is a credit to everybody around me. To put your name in the record books is an achievement.

"I hope I'm not judged by having scored 1,000 points, but by how much effort I put out on the floor."

Steger will graduate with a double major in entrepreneurship and finance, with a minor in economics, and plans to pursue an MBA. He hopes to eventually work in commercial real estate, following in the footsteps of his father, also named Onno.

Steger also hopes that comes after a professional career in Europe. He was in the process of hiring an agent earlier this month.

"With this crazy world, I'm taking it slower," Steger said, referring to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. "I love to travel. I can't stay put. I think playing overseas will provide me a great chance to grow as a basketball player and travel the world. ...

"I grew even more than I thought I would (in college). It's amazing. It just flew by."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave