Normal West 2019 big Francis Okoro: 'Illinois has shown big interest for me'

Francis Okoro discusses his big AAU spring, how he's developed and his early interest in the Illini.

Top-30 rising junior Francis Okoro has been in the state of Illinois for a year and a half, and while he came in with athleticism and upside, he is really making strides with his game now.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound big man averaged 8.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and two blocks per game on the EYBL circuit this spring. He is the anchor for the Brad Beal Elite down low, which is a team that will make its way to Peach Jam next month.

Okoro has always been mobile and physical. He competes hard in the paint and on the glass. He gets out in transition better than most bigs you will see. And he swats shot attempts at the other end.

The biggest difference now is the development of his offensive game. He came to Normal West as a freshman without any go-to moves -- other than flushing it home given the chance. But on the AAU circuit this year, he has shown a consistent right hook. He can comfortably shoot in the midrange as well.

"It's just work ethic. Going to the gym every day. Focus on one thing, come out and do that thing again," Okoro said. "That's one part of the game that I'm still trying to work on and get better on. It's still a work in progress. I've got some counters and other moves."

"But really working on two main post moves: My hook shot and my turnaround jump shot. By God's grace, it's coming along. Just got to keep doing it."

Okoro has been highly efficient by shooting 58.8 percent on the EYBL circuit. And he closed out the spring playing as well as he's played in his career. During the final regular season EYBL session in Los Angeles, Okoro averaged 11 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

This month, Okoro is back in the gym to improve as an athlete and with his skills.

"I work with my trainer every day. We work on my agility and speed. Athletic-wise, I'm already blessed but still working on it," he said. "And trying to stay healthy and get bigger. I found out I'm still growing a little bit and people say I'm getting bigger."

Overall, this is the kind of growth that coaches and evaluators have been seeking from Okoro. He had do some learning this past season on the high school scene. But it was good for him.

"The high school season was a really good experience. That was my first full high school season," Okoro said. "Getting double and triple-teamed, I learned a lot from it. That's why I've got to work on my hook shot and my jump shot. I learned that I've got to be quick with my moves but take my time to finish."

Okoro is in the early stages of his recruitment. To this point, his camp has kept him focused on development rather than potential college destinations. They didn't allow coaches to visit him in open gym this past season.

He hasn't visited anywhere or really talked to coaches. But that could change soon. Coaches will be allowed to start contacting him directly beginning on Thursday.

Okoro talked about how recruiting has gone thus far.

"Recruiting has been going well. Coaches have been calling my cousin," he said. "Kansas and North Carolina have been calling. Plenty of other schools. I'm just looking for the best fit."

"I don't care how big the school is or the name or anything like that. I'm looking for schools that are going to be aggressive with me."

Count Illinois as one of them.

"Illinois has shown big interest for me. They've offered me," Okoro said. "I know they have a new coach and people have said good things about him. I'm going to go check a game out this year."

The Illini have the luxury of being in close proximity to his high school, as well as his aunt and uncle who live in Bloomington-Normal. In addition, assistant coach Orlando Antigua figures to be a nice asset given his experience coaching NBA-level bigs.

This recruitment will heat up like a wildfire in no time, but Brad Underwood and his staff will look to seize -- rather than sweat -- the challenge.

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