James Okonkwo is one of the most interesting freshman in the country.
Okonkwo is currently supposed to be a junior. But not a college junior, a high school junior. Bob Huggins was able to convince Okonkwo and his dad that it would be beneficial for the 17 year old to reclassify from the class of 2023 to 2021 to practice against “grown men.”
The plan was for the 17 year old Okonkwo to redshirt like Jalen Bridges did two seasons ago, but the way Okonkwo played in practice forced Huggins’ hand. Okonkwo looked like he had already been playing against college players and was ready to contribute immediately. He was picking up everything that Huggins threw at him quickly.
“He shocked me,” Huggins said, “He was a lot better than I saw on film. A lot better”
Then just as quickly as he was getting going, Okonkwo’s progress was halted by an unusual foot injury. Even Huggins, in all of his years of coaching did not know how to describe the injury.
“Some people, I guess, those two bones, it’s not that they’ve grown together; they work there together,” he said. “What happened was he stepped on somebody’s foot and it turned, and they just broke apart. They’re not broken, but they’re apart, and they were together from the time he was born, if that makes any sense to you. I don’t know what you do to fix it. We can’t glue it back together obviously. In the beginning, they said five or six weeks it would heal, but I don’t know what that means.”
That time passed, and Okonkwo was back on the floor. Back to immediately impressing with his play in practice. So much so that James and his family had decided that they didn’t want him to redshirt this season.
In the 67-51 victory over Radford Okonkwo came in for 5 minutes, grabbed two rebounds and threw down a dunk from Gabe Osabuohien that got the crowd going. He checked out getting another nice ovation from the home crowd.
His stamina and game conditioning weren’t quite there yet, but there were building blocks. He showed athleticism that the Mountaineers are desperately needing, while grabbing a few rebounds, another thing they need.
Since the Radford game Okonkwo has not seen the floor even in the 30-point blowout win over Youngstown State. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be chances for the young forward. With his redshirt already burned, and has Huggins has said “with the way things are,” there should be ample opportunities for Okonkwo to see minutes.
Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography