One of the best stories in the 2017 class comes from Esperanza (Calif.) in Stanford signee Kezie Okpala.
The 6-foot-8, 195-pound small forward first emerged before his junior season, in November of 2015, when he found himself on the tail end of an eight inch growth spurt that made him a 6-foot-6 wing in the back end of Scout’s Top 100.
Thirteen months later and life is much different for Okpala. While over the last year he has clearly been a good prospect who slowly moved up Scout’s Top 100 into his current placement of 71st nationally, he still has mostly flown under the radar nationally.
Okpala didn’t play on the shoe circuit in AAU or attend any major camps, which may be why his name has been a little slower to gain recognition nationally. Even locally, the four-star prospect has received little coverage outside of Scout.
Stanford trailed Okpala throughout the summer and ultimately offered the four-star wing a scholarship, which he accepted in August.
Since then, Okpala has probably grown another inch and, most importantly, he’s taken another step forward as a prospect.
As his body has slowly matured and his growing has slowed down, his athleticism has kicked up another notch. He’s a better ball handler, a better shooter and a better passer.
On Tuesday in a 73-48 win over Oak Park in the Orange Holiday Classic, Okpala was sensational, scoring 34 points in three quarters using his continuously improved skill set and athleticism to dominate the opposition.
“I think I’ve gotten so much better since last season,” Okpala said. “I’m 10 times more confident and feel like no one can really stop me when I’m on the court. My midrange has gotten better and so has my speed and athleticism.
“My athleticism is night and day. I feel like getting my knees healthy was the whole key. I had bad growing pains last year. I’ve been working out hard.”
While Okpala had a pretty painless recruitment and made an early commitment to Stanford, he’s still found life easier since making his college decision.
“I’ve been able to focus on my game more,” he said. “I have a great relationship with the Stanford coaches. They’re really down to earth and great guys and I think that’s what I need. They’re very confident in me.”
Moving forward, what makes Okpala so exciting as a prospect is that he’s still so physically immature and he’s made serious progress as a performer with the little strength he’s been able to gain to date.
Once Okpala finally stops growing and can add much more strength, it’s hard to put a cap on his ceiling.
“I’m trying to play at the highest level possible,” Okpala said.
Everything about Okpala's progress says he's moving in the direction to ultimately do so.