Goodluck Okonoboh has declared for the NBA Draft.
— Goodluck Okonoboh (@Goodlucko_12) April 10, 2016
After less than a year and half at UNLV, former New England prep star Goodluck Okonoboh announced he would transfer last month. Here’s a look at his past, present and future.
Okonoboh first gained notoriety starring alongside Nerlens Noel both at the Tilton School as well as with the BABC. Together, the duo formed arguably the best shot-blocking tandem in the country. As an upperclassmen, Okonoboh made two moves, moving over to the Mass Rivals where he played alongside another current NBA player, Noah Vonleh, and transferring to Wilbraham & Monson Academy to play under former head coach Chris Sparks.
It was during his final season on the AAU circuit that Okonoboh reasserted himself as a top national prospect, establishing himself as potentially the very best rim protector in the entire country and landing scholarship offers from the likes of Duke on down while simultaneously earning a top 30 national ranking in the process. Ultimately, his college decision came down to three schools – Indiana, Ohio State and UNLV. Both the Hoosiers and Buckeyes both seemed on the verge of landing the commitment but ultimately the Runnin Rebels won out when Okonoboh announced his decision live on ESPNU’s Signing Day Special.
Okonobh made a quick impact for the Runnin Rebels last year as a freshmen, averaging just under 27 minutes and 6 points per game while also spending the majority of the season among the top ten shot-blockers in all of division I basketball. However, there were two warning signs in the off-season that Okonoboh’s role might be moving in the wrong direction. The first was a commitment from Stephen Zimmerman, a local five-star product who played under Dave Rice’s brother at Bishop Gorman High School.
While it was clear that Zimmerman was expected to log major minutes up front right away, the silver lining for Okonoboh is that he was also expected to be one-and-done to the NBA and so even if his minutes dipped as a sophomore, they would presumably jump back up as a junior. However, even that proved unlikely when UNLV took Chris Obekpa, a transfer from St. John’s who would sit out the 2015-2016 season before utilizing his final year of eligibility in 2016-2017.
Worse yet for Okonoboh was that Obekpa was an almost identical type of player – a truly elite shot-blocker and high level athlete who was limited on the offensive end of the floor, especially away from the basket – and consequently they would likely be in competition, not necessarily sharing time. Through six games this season, Okonoboh’s role shrank as expected. He was sent to the bench after starting for virtually his entire freshmen year – a move Rice claims was Okonoboh himself volunteered – and saw his minutes fall to just 15 per game.
What Happens Now:
It’s been relatively quiet since UNLV announced that Okonoboh would transfer. While he has yet take any visit or comment on any of his suitors, there are unconfirmed reports of interest from a wide variety of high-major schools including the likes of UConn, Providence College, Tennessee, Georgetown and Arizona State among others.
The bottom line is that while his early career at UNLV didn’t necessarily live up to early expectations, he is still an elite athlete along the front line and one of the most gifted shot-blockers in all of college basketball who is equally capable of running the floor and cleaning the glass when he is so inclined. However, if he’s ever going to live up to that potential, the process needs to start by making a good decision here.
His initial decision to go to UNLV over Indiana and Ohio State was the wrong choice made for the wrong reasons. He was seduced by the bright lights and allure of Las Vegas and so he looked past the pattern of under-achieving and off court issues that has surrounded UNLV in recent years and in so doing spurned two of the most notable programs in the country, both of whom had proven track records of team success and individual player development. If he’s going to get it right this time, his priorities will have to shift.
He’ll need to put a premium on player development and discipline, find a coach that will demand nothing short of his best and allow himself to be pushed, coached and held accountable on a daily basis. If he does that, he still has a chance to be one of the truly elite defensive big men in all of college basketball and eventually an NBA prospect. If he doesn’t, he likely won’t ever be the player he could or should have been. Which will it be? Only time will tell, but the decision he makes in the next few weeks will prove to be a very big clue…just like it did the first time around.