The then-6-foot-7 kid who left his home in Nigeria three years ago wasn’t even sure whether or not he loved basketball. What he did know was that he wasn’t very good at the sport. But Felix Okpara arrived in the United States on a student visa without any family members in 2018 anyway to hoop while beginning a new life on a totally different continent.
No, he admits, it wasn’t easy, especially initially.
“Oh, man. It was weird,” Okpara said. “You know, one minute you wake up you're with your family, the other moment you wake up you're in a different place, different area.”
But all of the stress, all of the change, it’s beginning to pay off. On Monday, Okpara made his college decision, committing to Ohio State.
The coveted center publicized the decision three days after telling the coaching staff of his intention and a month and a half after taking an official visit to Columbus, when he saw the city for the first time in his life.
The Okpara File
- Class: 2022
- Size: 6-foot-11, 215 pounds
- Pos: C
- School: Hamilton Heights (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
- Composite Rating: ★★★★
- Composite Rank: #47 overall, #9 center
“I figured out Ohio State was the best place for me game-wise and development-wise,” Okpara told Eleven Warriors. “When I was on the visit, I saw the statistics of how much players have improved during the years, how the coaching staff has helped improve a lot of players and I feel like it's the right place for me. I'm big on player development.”
Okpara, who attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is ranked as the No. 47 overall prospect and ninth-best center in the class of 2022. He’s the highest-rated center to pick Ohio State since B.J. Mullens in 2008.
He joins four-star point guard Bruce Thornton, four-star shooting guard Roddy Gayle and three-star Bowen Hardman to give the Buckeyes the No. 1 overall 2022 recruiting class in college basketball.
Ohio State is the only program in the country to have three top-50 commitments, with Okpara being the latest.
At 6-foot-11 and 215 pounds with long arms, he has caught the attention of colleges due to his shot-blocking prowess and knack for protecting the rim. His high school coach called him “the best shot blocker in the country.” Because of what he can offer defensively, he’s seen as having a unique skill set compared to the other big men Chris Holtmann has had at Ohio State. Offensively, he’s a work in progress who needs to put on weight and get stronger, but he’s already making shots off the catch, getting on the offensive glass and scoring on dives to the basket.
He averaged 11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game as a junior for Hamilton Heights. Mississippi, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma State were among the other schools chasing Okpara the hardest.
|NAME||POSITION||OVERALL RANKING||POSITION RANKING||DATE OF COMMITMENT|
|BOWEN HARDMAN||SG||No. 201||No. 31||MAY 13, 2020|
|RODDY GAYLE||SG||No. 46||No. 5||NOV. 13, 2020|
|BRUCE THORNTON||PG||No. 23||No. 5||NOV. 26, 2020|
|FELIX OKPARA||C||No. 47||No. 9||JUNE 26, 2021|
The Buckeyes have long had their eyes on Okpara, whose roots in Tennessee gave lead recruiter Jake Diebler an in. They started reaching out between his sophomore and junior years of high school, but the pursuit truly ramped up when they dished out a scholarship offer on May 25. He set up an official visit for the third week of June, which just so happened to be his first visit since the end of the dead period.
“It was fun and kind of stressful, I ain't gonna lie,” Okpara said. “I got to meet the players. I met the players. I hang out with the players. I met a lot of the coaching staff. I went to coach Holtmann's house. We had dinner together. We went on campus. They showed me the dorms. They showed me pretty much everything.”
He says that when he left, he could envision himself attending Ohio State. But since it was his first trip, he wanted to wait. Two weeks later, he visited Mississippi.
Yet as the time passed, the Buckeyes stuck at the front of Okpara’s mind. As he played with MOKAN Elite of Nike EYBL in Peach Jam for the past couple of weeks, Holtmann and Diebler stayed in constant contact, texting him feedback – both positive and negative – after his performances. They also shared highlight videos of his play with him.
“I love that family vibe,” Okpara said.
Loved it enough to make those coaches his coaches, in fact.
Okpara can finally, officially say it: He’s a Buckeye.
“It's a big relief,” Okpara said. “A really big relief. Now I know what I have to work on so I'm putting myself on the next level, and I know what's expected for me at the next level too.”