INDIANAPOLIS — Vin Pastore, the coach of the summer travel squad Mass Rivals, could come up with only one plausible response when asked what makes center Goodluck Okonoboh as good as he is.
“God,” Pastore said Thursday morning after the Indiana target had scored 16 points in a win over Indiana Elite at the Adidas Invitational at North Central High School. “He’s 6-foot-10 with a 7-3 ½ wingspan and impeccable timing and an instinct to go get balls. Those are gifts from God. He’s hard-nosed, tough kid who wants to win. He won that game today. He’s got a lot of gifts from God.”
Divine providence is as good an explanation as any for Okonoboh’s natural talent, especially considering how fortunate he is not only to be in this position but for his father to be in position to see it.
Okonoboh’s parents Sylvester and Justine both emigrated to the United States from Nigeria about 20 years ago before their son was born. Sylvester now works in a home for mentally challenged people and Justine is a nurse, but when they first emigrated, Sylvester was working at a cab driver in Boston trying to make ends meet. In September of 1994 in the Roxbury section of town, he was shot in the chest over a dispute over a fare.
“He got shot by a .22 caliber gun,” said Okonoboh, who plays his school ball at Wilbraham and Monson Academy in Massachusetts. “It went in his chest, it went all through his body, pierced a little bit of his heart. … He wasn’t supposed to live, but he did live the next week I was born. So he named me Goodluck because he felt lucky to become a father.”
Now Sylvester is a father to a major conference recruit. The 6-10, 220-pound Okonoboh is the No. 32 player in the Class of 2014 according to Rivals.com and has 14 known major conference scholarship offers. Along with Indiana, Connecticut, Gonzaga, Marquette, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Tennessee are known to have offered. Duke, Kentucky and Louisville are also apparently starting to show interest and were at his game on Thursday morning. Okonoboh said Indiana has recruited him hard and made it very clear they want him and they have the advantage of having his former Mass Rivals teammate Noah Vonleh on the squad. However, Okonoboh is also best friends with former high school teammate Nerlens Noel, who starred at Kentucky this season before entering the NBA Draft
The amount of attention coming his way is something Okonoboh’s family doesn’t entirely grasp yet. Sylvester gets it on some level as a former soccer and track athlete in Nigeria. Justine not so much.
“My dad knows a lot about that stuff,” Okonoboh said. “He knows I work hard, so he knows everything that will come. My mom, the funny thing is, if she was here right now and watching you guys interview me, she would be so surprised, like, ‘What? What’s going on?’ She’s always working, so I don’t really have her come to my games. She never really watched me playing in the games. When I get to college and she starts coming to my games, she’s going to be like, ‘Whoah.’”
College coaches will start to look at him the same way if he develops a consistent offensive game. Like Noel, he’s made his name primarily as a shot blocker and drawn recruiting attention based on the potential coaches equate with his sort of length and athleticism. He has made substantial progress in a year, though, as his 16-point performance suggest. He was mostly scoring on ally-oops and stickbacks, but he also showed budding post game and is finding some consistency with a short range jumper.
“He’s facing up now at the basket,” Pastore said. “He’s got a foul-line jump shot that actually looks good coming off his hand. He’s gotta keep doing that. That’s his goal. He loves playing defense and he’s the best in the country at it, but he loves to score the basketball. … He didn’t have any of it last year. That was the knock on him that he didn’t have any offense. This year’s been the first year, I think it’s one of the big reason’s he’s playing for me. I allowed him to go shoot the basketball and create. Last summer was the first time he’s ever tried to create any offense. He’s in the infant stage of that.”
Attention spreading out for Coleman, Edwards
Indiana Elite 2015 point guards Jalen Coleman and Hyron Edwards started receiving recruiting attention from major conference schools immediately after their freshman seasons at Cathedral and East Chicago respectively, with Indiana and Purdue offering both before last summer began.
For both, however, most of the attention came solely from the Midwest. Illinois was Edwards’ only other offer beyond the in-state schools. Coleman had six, but the others were Illinois, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Providence.
Heading into their junior years, though, their recruitments have gone more national. Coleman said he recently picked up scholarship offers from Arizona and Memphis. Edwards said he doesn’t have any more offers yet, but that DePaul, Florida, Miami (Fla.), Stanford and Vanderbilt have started expressing interest.
“It’s pretty great that they’re looking at me, “ Edwards said. “They see potential in me, I guess. That’s just great to get looks, it’s a blessing to me.”
Both are still hearing from Indiana, though, and Coleman — who is transferring to La Lumiere this year — said he recently took an unofficial visit and played with the incoming freshmen and players in an open gym.
“I had a good feel mentally and how they focused and just the competition that you’re going to play with coming into college,” Coleman said. “That showed me that’s what you’re going to be going into.”
Hoosiers in on top 2015 big man
Indiana is in contact with the top-rated big man in the 2015 class, but unlike many other national powers, they haven’t offered him a scholarship yet.
Stephen Zimmerman, a 7-foot, 215-pounder from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, is rated No. 2 overall in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com and No. 1 overall by Scout.com. He has 20 scholarship offers, with Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and UCLA among those who have taken the plunge.
Indiana hasn’t yet, but he has been willing to listen to their overtures.
“Obviously, it’s a great school, especially for big men,” he said. “I’m always looking for a school that likes to develop big men.”