Kingdom League Observations: Brice Sensabaugh Drops 51, Bruce Thornton Looks Like the Real Deal And Felix Okpara Shows Off His Shot-Blocking Prowess

By Griffin Strom on July 5, 2022 at 8:35 am
Brice Sensabaugh
Ohio State Athletics, Instagram/@babysensa

Buckeyes past, present and (potentially) future descended upon Ohio Dominican University to show their skills on the hardwood this past Sunday.

As part of the Kingdom League summer ball tournament, running each week through mid-August, hoopers of varying degrees of age, experience and skill level took part in four games over the weekend. Of particular note was a slew of current Ohio State players, including returning center Zed Key, redshirt freshman Kalen Etzler and true freshmen Bruce Thornton, Brice Sensabaugh and Felix Okpara.

Also present were former Buckeye standouts Jared Sullinger, Andre Wesson and Keyshawn Woods, and Columbus native and NBA veteran Trey Burke suited up as well. Pickerington Central forward Devin Royal was the most noteworthy high school recruit that participated, and Eleven Warriors watched all of them ball at ODU on Sunday.

Below we’ve assembled a list of observations about the performances put on by the five current Buckeyes, headlined by a 51-point outburst by Sensabaugh.

Sensabaugh Steals the Show

No player impressed more on Sunday than Sensabaugh, who had the crowd at Ohio Dominion eating out of his hand by game’s end, and for good reason.

The Buckeye freshman finished with 51 points in a three-point loss to a team that featured former college basketball player of the year and longtime NBA vet Trey Burke and former Buckeye forward Andre Wesson. But neither of those players – nor anyone else on the court – could figure out a way to slow down Sensabaugh, who pieced together one highlight-reel play after another for all four quarters of the affair.

Running point guard for much of the game, the 6-foot-6 talent drilled deep contested threes, converted four-point plays, dunked the ball on several occasions and drove inside at will no matter who was guarding him. Sensabaugh also facilitated offense for others, dropping more than one awe-inspiring dime during the ballgame.

Sensabaugh’s repertoire seemed perfectly tailored to the environment of the summer league matchup, and his performance was so good that Burke took an extra moment to give the young guard some words of encouragement at the end of the game.

If Sensabaugh had been flying under the radar for Ohio State fans entering the upcoming season, that should no longer be the case. The offensive skill set of the first-year Buckeye could be a sight to behold early on, and Sunday’s Kingdom League effort was a showcase of everything he’s capable of.

Thornton Takes Control

Ohio State’s new floor general looked every bit like the real deal in his Kingdom League game on Sunday, controlling the floor, setting up offense and creating his own shot all afternoon in a close contest at Ohio Dominion.

Garnering the nickname “Big Muscle” from the MC on hand at the event, the stocky point guard had the ball in his hand for much of the game and made things happen for his team throughout. Thornton got particularly aggressive when the game got close in the second half of action, hitting back-to-back pull-up 3-pointers in one sequence and knifing into the lane for layups despite the best defensive efforts of former Buckeye guard and longtime pro hooper Ron Lewis.

Thornton formed a formidable duo with Devin Royal, who played on the wing and benefitted from multiple opportunities created by Thornton in the contest.

Perhaps Thornton’s composure, advanced passing ability and speed off the dribble stood out most of all as the Georgia native gave Buckeye fans in attendance plenty to be excited about for the year to come.

Quiet Outing for Okpara

Okpara admitted to Eleven Warriors following his Sunday Kingdom League performance that he knows he still has strides to make this summer after a relatively subdued effort at Ohio Dominion.

The near 7-foot big man finished with just four points in a losing effort, although the showcase put on by Sensabaugh had plenty to do with his own quiet day. Not to mention, a center looking for post touches in a summer league game generally has their work cut out for them in the first place.

But that doesn’t mean Okpara didn’t show plenty of promise. The Buckeye freshman blocked multiple shots, including one off the backboard in the opening 90 seconds of the contest, and displayed diverse offensive potential even if all of his shots didn’t fall.

Okpara scored on a sweet jump-hoop in the post when matched up with Ohio State teammate Kalen Etzler, and hit a mid-range jumper in the first half as well. Okpara attempted another sweeping hook on the right block as well as several other short jumpers, but will need to round out his game to see the results he’s looking for on the hardwood moving forward.

Key Still A Handful Down Low

No one was concerned that Key’s post game might regress as he enters his third year with the Buckeyes in 2022. But in case anyone needed a reminder, the 6-foot-8 big man had ample opportunity to show what he's best at.

Key did damage backing down smaller defenders on the low block, as expected, but he also displayed a trimmer frame and even attempted a 3-pointer early on in the game. The New York native also threw down several authoritative finishes at the rim throughout the contest and made sure to employ his “raise the roof” celebration even in a summer league game.

Key received fewer touches late as Sullinger began to take over, but the former Ohio State All-American still found Key inside for a dunk on one standout assist in the second half. There aren’t likely to be many Kingdom League teams that can contend with a low-post duo like Sullinger and Key, although a one-on-one matchup between the two may be even more compelling.

Etzler Shows Athleticicm

Largely overshadowed by Sensabaugh’s performance in the same game (who wasn’t?), Etzler still got to show off some impressive finishes at the rim in a winning effort against some of his Buckeye teammates.

Playing on a team with Burke and Wesson, Etzler was not going to be the centerpiece of the offense for his squad. But equipped with a noticeably more muscular build than the one he possessed last year, Etzler made some plays inside and even knocked down a catch-and-shoot three from the wing in the first half.

Etzler was tasked with matching up against Okpara for much of the game, and managed to limit the Buckeye center to a relatively quiet game offensively. But Etzler also saw a couple of his shot attempts turned back by the lengthy shot-blocker.

Exactly what role Etzler will have for Ohio State in his second season remains unclear as of now, but his athleticism and finishing ability stood out in the contest just the same, finishing with 12 points before all was said and done.

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