The spring and summer periods can be a busy time for a top basketball prospect.
Okonoboh deals with media crush at adidas
Goodluck Okonoboh is finding that out, certainly, with his recent schedule. He has attended four pressure packed national events in the last three weeks. His run wrapped up with an appearance at the adidas Invitational this past weekend in Indianapolis, where he played with his Massachusetts Rivals AAU team. (Check out an impressive highlight video of some of Okonoboh’s best plays above.)
“He was at Under Armour Camp, then the Amare Stoudamire camp, then the LeBron James Skills Academy and this was his fourth straight deal,” said Mass Rivals coach Vincent Pastore. “For Goodluck, this is his summer. This is his year. He is a late bloomer as a top prospect in the country. For some kids who have been doing this for two or three years, maybe the buzz would die down.
“But this is all new to him. It’s been a great coming out party. He is trying to make his case for what I think he is – a top-10 kid in the country. He’s still playing for something.”
Okonoboh is a 6-10, 220-pound post player from Boston’s Wilbraham & Monson Academy. He is one of the fastest rising prospects in the 2014 class, ranking No. 19 overall, as the No. 3 center and the No. 1 player in Massachusetts by 247Sports.com.
He said that going from one major event to another is part of the drill.
“This is what I wanted to do my whole life,” Okonoboh said. “This is what you have to do – traveling and more traveling. This is nothing compared to what NBA players do.”
Okonoboh wrapped up play in Las Vegas at the LeBron James Skills Academy on Monday. He was on a plane and ready to go in Indianapolis on Thursday morning. In his first game of the tournament – with luminaries like Indiana’s Tom Crean, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and others looking on – Okonoboh dominated the action.
He recorded a rare triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
Okonoboh in action at adidas
“He is the best shot blocker in the country,” Pastore said matter-of-factly after that win.
Okonoboh played last season at Tilton (N.H.) School, the same school that produced Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. He is moving to Wilbraham & Monson Academy for his senior year.
“I played with Nerlens Noel in high school,” Okonoboh said. “I learned a lot from him. Shot blocking is all timing. It’s like scoring – it’s an art. It’s all about timing and patience.”
Okonoboh’s team bowed out of the 64-team championship bracket at adidas with a second-round loss. But in his five games at the tournament he showed college coaches and scouts he is an extra effort guy.
“Internally, that’s a talent,” Pastore said. “One of the talents he has is playing hard. That’s just part of what his make-up is as a person. He brings that to the court. When you have that kind of God-given talent to go with size and length and impeccable timing, you add a kid who plays hard and you have one hell of a prospect.”
Aside from the on-the-court instruction, Okonoboh said he picked up some valuable lessons at the LeBron camp.
“We were at the LeBron James camp and he was talking about how every day he works hard and he’s in the gym,” he said. “That’s one of the best players in the league. At my age, I look at it like I am nowhere close to LeBron. I have to work on everything – my post moves, my jump shot and handling the ball.”
Okonoboh is also polishing his offensive game. At adidas, he scored in the paint and also stepped out to the three-point line.
Okonoboh has nearly every top school after him
“I learned that you have to take your time with the basketball and not be in a rush to score,” he said. “When I faced up, I shot my jump shot. They call it the Amare Stoudamire two-second rule. You face up and take two seconds to see what you’ve got.”
Schools Coming After Okonoboh
Okonoboh has collected offers from nearly every top team in the country. He is taking it all in stride, however.
“I’ve been focusing on getting better,” he said. “I haven’t been focusing on schools. I’m not really settling for anybody right now. I’m not sure who I am going to visit this fall. My coaches and my parents take care of that.”
Schools that have offered include Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Connecticut, Ohio State, Florida, Gonzaga, Maryland, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and others.
Here were his thoughts on some of those schools:
On Indiana: “The message is they want me. I played with (IU incoming freshman) Noah Vonleh on this team last year. I was with Noah at the Amare Stoudamire camp and the LeBron camp. He is always in my ear about IU. The coaches contact me daily. He talks about how IU is a great program and how they will develop you to get you to where you want to be.”
Okonoboh said he was impressed by Indiana having two of the top four picks in the NBA draft with Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller.
“It’s a developmental program,” he said. “You look at Victor Oladipo. He was not rated that high (coming out of high school) and now he was the No. 2 pick in the draft. That shows you that Indiana is good with development.”
On Louisville: “They like how I run the floor as a big man and my potential. They talk about how Louisville plays and how I would fit in. They play hard basketball and they run the court. They get up-and-down. I am a family guy and I look at them as a family-type program.”
On Duke: “Duke is a school that offered me a scholarship. They have Coach K. That’s all you have to say about Duke.”
On Florida: “Florida offered me. It’s kind of like Louisville’s style with the up-and-down. Billy Donovan is a great coach.”
On Ohio State: “I talked to the Ohio State coach, Thad Matta, a few days ago. They are very interested. One of my good friends is D’Angelo Russell and he’s going there.”
Interesting Name, Interesting Story
There is a very poignant back story to Okonoboh’s unique first name, Goodluck.
“Long story short, my dad was a taxi driver when he first came to America,” he said. “He was brutally shot. He wasn’t supposed to live, but he did live. He got shot by a .22 caliber gun in his chest. It pierced his heart.
“The next week I was born and he named me Goodluck because not everybody is lucky enough to have a father.”
He added, “It is definitely neat. I take a lot of pride in my name.”
It’s clear that Okonoboh is more than just a long athlete who patrols the paint.
“Being a basketball player does not define who you are,” he said. “I am a regular person just like everybody here. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t say, ‘I’m a basketball player.’ I say, ‘I’m a person and however I can help the world, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”
Okonoboh said he is enjoying the ride – even if it means coaches are bombarding him with calls and texts and reporters are always clamoring for interviews.
“I am just blessed to be getting all of this attention at the end of the day,” he said. “It may be frustrating sometimes. But you have to look at it like some people would die to be in this position, so I’m just taking it all in.”