Ohio State In Need of Rim Protection, Rebounding After Departure of Felix Okpara

By Andy Anders on April 22, 2024 at 8:35 am
Felix Okpara

The dream of twin towers in Ohio State’s frontcourt is dead. At least for the time being.

Despite initially deciding to return to Columbus, starting center Felix Okpara will play his college basketball at a different destination next season, entering the transfer portal on Sunday. 

Okpara’s exit leaves portal acquisition Aaron Bradshaw as a near-lock to start at the 5 for the Buckeyes in 2024-25, but it also leaves a 6-foot-11 hole in the team’s frontcourt rotation vacated by the Big Ten’s second-leading shot blocker.

On the floor

Without Okpara, Ohio State’s starting lineup now lacks its most proven defender heading into its first campaign under Diebler.

Okpara racked up 2.4 blocked shots per game last season, second-most in the Big Ten and 11th across college basketball. He set a program record with 43 consecutive games recording a blocked shot, a streak that dates back to his freshman year and continued through his entire sophomore season.

The good news is Bradshaw, fresh off his freshman campaign in 2023-24, possesses many of the same athletic traits, if not even better, that made Okpara so essential as a rim protector. He collected 0.7 blocks per game at Kentucky but did so while playing 13.7 minutes per game to Okpara’s 23.5.

Standing two inches taller than Okpara at 7-1 with similarly elite vertical leaping ability, Bradshaw was a five-star prospect ranked No. 1 at center and No. 4 overall in 247Sports’ composite rankings for the class of 2023.

Bradshaw will also need to replace Okpara as the team’s rebounding anchor. Okpara posted 6.4 boards per game this past year. Bradshaw pulled in 3.3 boards per contest with the Wildcats, a rate closer to Okpara’s than his blocked-shot numbers given their minutes. Another year of development should boost Bradshaw’s contributions in both areas.

Scoring is where the upside lies with Bradshaw. Okpara averaged a respectable 6.6 points per game for the Buckeyes while Bradshaw lingered just behind him at 4.9 points despite the above-mentioned lower usage. He hit double figures in seven games as a freshman at Kentucky, which Okpara did just three times as a freshman at Ohio State and still only nine times as a sophomore.

Per 100 possessions, Bradshaw outpaced Okpara in the point department 19.3 to 16.7 while Okpara had the better numbers in rebounding (16.1 to 13) and blocks (six to 2.9).

What hurts most is the lost possibility of the duo playing together on Ohio State’s roster. They likely would have only played on the floor together during brief spots of certain games in 2024-25, but a 1-2 punch of Bradshaw and Okpara could have run with any center tandem in the Big Ten and perhaps the country.

For now the “2” to Bradshaw’s “1” is Austin Parks, who played just 20 minutes across nine games as a freshman. Parks (6-10, 260) finished as a three-star prospect out of high school, ranked 26th at center and 184th overall in the same class as Bradshaw.

In a physical conference like the Big Ten, a roster needs two proven rim protectors to alter shots. As it stands, the Buckeyes have only one.

New portal strategy

Ohio State’s plan isn’t to count on Parks as Bradshaw’s backup. The Buckeyes expect to use their newly opened second available scholarship to pursue another rim-protecting, glass-eating center.

With the late nature of Okpara’s entry, options currently look limited. Notre Dame’s Carey Booth is a player the Buckeyes were in the hunt for previously, but he’s already pledged his services to Illinois.

Utah State’s Great Osobor is a player who could fit the build of what Ohio State is looking for and one who the Buckeyes have had contact, but he seems to be trending toward Kentucky at this stage.

Whomever the Buckeyes can identify as an additional center, they’ll pair him with a versatile power forward as their other remaining portal aim. Oakland’s Trey Townsend, Central Arkansas’ Tucker Anderson and Alabama’s Sam Walters have all visited Columbus in the past week while Ohio State has also reportedly been talking to South Florida’s Kasean Pryor.

Townsend offers a distinct direction at the power forward spot compared to the other three, being that he’s the only one who doesn’t offer a significant three-point threat. He compensates on just about every other area of the floor, however, racking up 17.3 points per game to pace the Golden Grizzlies in 2023-24. He also led the team in rebounds (8.1 per game), assists (3.1) and steals (1.3).

Replacing the three-point production of Jamison Battle and Scotty Middleton – both of whom shot greater than 43% from outside this campaign – could be of great importance, however. The Buckeyes are hoping that former San Diego State wing Micah Parrish addresses some of those concerns for them. Parrish only made 30.8% of his 3-point looks in 2023-24 but hit between 34.9 and 35.3% of his distance shots in each of his three prior collegiate seasons.

Anderson shot 38.1% from three for Central Arkansas in 2023-24 en route to scoring 14.5 points per game but only managed 3.7 rebounds per game in 30.8 minutes. Walters offers intriguing upside as a former top-100 prospect and shot 39.4% from deep, but will still have quite a bit to prove after playing 12.3 minutes per game at Alabama as a freshman. He and Anderson both have three years of eligibility remaining while Townsend is entering his final year of college basketball.

Also entering his final collegiate season is Pryor, who posted 13 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for the Bulls this year. He also shot 35.2% from three at a decent volume, taking 3.3 3-point attempts per game.

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