Felix Okpara Knows “I’ve Still Got A Lot of Room to Grow” Before Freshman Season Begins At Ohio State

By Griffin Strom on July 8, 2022 at 11:35 am
Felix Okpara

Ohio State didn’t sign a transfer center over the offseason. Not even a scholarship power forward.

That was a conscious decision by Chris Holtmann and the Buckeye coaching staff, and it speaks to the confidence it has in the two true big men on the roster for the 2022-23 season. For the most part, Ohio State already knows what it has in returning junior Zed Key, although his full potential may not be fully realized just yet. What true freshman Felix Okpara will bring to the table, though, will be more of a mystery.

The 6-foot-11 first-year center certainly possesses the type of length and athleticism that scouts at every level fawn over, but if you ask Okpara himself, he’s still got a ways to go before he can impact the game to the extent he wants to. It’s a realization Okpara has come to after four straight weeks of interior battles with his 6-foot-8, 245-pound counterpart down low during Ohio State’s summer practices.

“It’s been tough. Zed Key’s a real good player, a real big dude and I’ve still got a lot of room to grow in my game and also my physique,” Okpara told Eleven Warriors at this past Sunday’s Kingdom League event at Ohio Dominican University. “I feel like if I work out with him in the practice room every day, I’m gonna get better and get stronger.”

One glance at Okpara makes it obvious that his frame is a work in progress, given his wiry build as just an 18-year-old. Okpara says he weighs 218 pounds right now, but wants to get to 230 before the start of the season.

It’s no surprise Key uses that to his advantage when the pair match up in the post. But Okpara’s elite shot-blocking ability means he still wins a fair share of sequences between the pair.

“(Our one-on-one matchups have been) very physical. I know he’s gonna try to punch my shot, so I got to give him my body,” Key said at the Kingdom League event. “But he’s a good defender, and I gotta use some of my being in college two years.”

The pair didn’t get to square off during Sunday’s Kingdom League contests, as Key and Okpara played in different games throughout the day. Neither one was quite satisfied with their performance, and Okpara said getting a couple more games under his belt in the summer league would be beneficial for his quality of play. Not to mention, Okpara was overshadowed by a monster 51-point performance from fellow Buckeye freshman Brice Sensabaugh who was on the same team.

Still, Okpara said the Kingdom League platform allows for the new Buckeyes to raise their profile in the city well before the season begins.

“To be honest, it’s my first time playing in it. I’m still trying to get a feel for the game and trying to understand how the guys feel. It’s way different,” Okpara said. “I think if I play a couple more games, I’ll be able to show out more. … It’s been great. (The Buckeye freshmen) have been putting ourselves out on the map so people can know what kind of players they are. It’s been good.”

Okpara had just four points in the contest and missed most of his mid-range jumpshot attempts, but did convert on a nice jump hook on a post-up look when guarded by Buckeye teammate Kalen Etzler. Okpara also blocked multiple shots, which is sure to be his calling card early on for Ohio State while he rounds out the rest of his skill set.

“I’m working on my game every day and hopefully I’m gonna add up some stuff and it’s gonna get me ready for the season so I can impact the game.”– Felix Okpara

Key said he’s already proven that much during Ohio State’s summer practice sessions.

“Felix, he’s coming along. Really athletic, can jump out of the gym, good hands, he can dunk everything. So I gotta watch my head when I’m guarding him,” Key said. “But even Brice, too. Brice can really shoot the ball and put the ball on the floor. He’s a mismatch problem. All the freshmen have their little quirks and they’re really good. I’m looking forward to playing with them.”

As far as how the Buckeye roster is gelling so far with a group of mostly new faces, Okpara said the team's chemistry could use some work. But Ohio State has plenty of time to build a rapport before the season starts, and that’s especially true for the young nucleus of freshmen that could stay together in scarlet and gray for a number of years.

“It’s not really great, but we’re working on it,” Okpara said. “So it’s way better when we have all the new guys, and you know we’re gonna be there for a long time, so if we can get the chemistry to go good this year, we’re gonna be good in years to come.”

For Okpara individually, there’s plenty of work to be done this summer, but he still thinks he can make a difference as a true freshman if he accomplishes his goals over the next several months.

“I still got room to grow,” Okpara said. “I’m working on my game every day and hopefully I’m gonna add up some stuff and it’s gonna get me ready for the season so I can impact the game.”

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