Okwarabizie Sees Iowa

Iyke Okwarabizie has added punch to the Sioux City East team since becoming eligible last month. In doing so, the big man from Nigeria has caught the attention of college coaches. One of the schools keeping tabs on him is Iowa. He visited the Hawkeyes on Saturday and talked with us about that stop and where things stand in his recruitment.

Ikenna Okwarabizie grew up playing soccer in his native Nigeria. It's long been the favorite sport of his homeland.

As he continued growing, people suggested Okwarabizie try basketball. He never gave it much thought until stepping on a court in 2010. The result surprised him.

"It was kind of fun," Okwarabizie said. "I became interested. I wasn't very good, but it was fun. I just kept working at it and here we are today."

That would be in position to accept a basketball scholarship in the United States. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound post is in his senior season at Sioux City (Iowa) East High.

Okwarabizie reports scholarship offers from Drake and South Dakota State. Iowa, Tennessee, Wichita State and South Florida are showing him interest, he said.

On Saturday, Okwarabizie visited Iowa. He last had been to the school in September.

"I knew the Iowa coaches even before I came to Sioux City," Okwarabizie said. "I've been in contact with Coach (Andrew) Francis and Coach Fran (McCaffery) for some time. They've been recruiting me all of this while."

The Hawkeye staff began scouting Okwarabizie when he was in St. Louis, he said. He arrived there from Nigeria in 2012. He played at St. Louis Christian Academy and with the high-profile St. Louis Eagles AAU program before moving to Sioux City last April.

Iowa High School Athletic Association rules required Okwarabizie to sit out 90 days after his transfer from St. Louis. Since hitting the hardwood in January, he's averaged 13.2 points and 12.6 rebounds a game.

"I think what I do best is rebounding and blocking shots," Okwarabizie said. "Blocked shots aren't automatic but if you're smart about it you can be good at it. I can jump and am athletic. My post moves are improving. Once I have my back to the basket, I can do anything."

Okwarabizie is focusing on his face-up game.

"My coaches have been working with me on my shot," he said. "They want me to shoot it. I'm a good shooter but I have the mentality if I get it and shoot I could have instead done a post move and got to the basket.

"I feel like the coaches would be mad if I just settled for (an outside) shot. They explain it to me that I'm going to miss shots in my career. It's tough to get that mentality changed. I understand what they're trying to tell me."

Okwarabizie said playing soccer has helped his footwork in basketball. It failed to prepare him for everything, however.

"When I used to play soccer, I thought basketball was easier," Okwarabizie said. "The court is not as big as a soccer field. When I started playing basketball, I noticed that it's even more tiring than soccer. You have to run down and back almost all of the time.

"If you're playing well, the coach leaves you in and you're gasping for air. Soccer, you stay at your position and don't run the whole field."

With Okwarabizie, East High is eying a Class 4A state championship. They return to the court Friday against the winner of the Council Bluffs Lincoln-Sioux City West Game.

With a week off between contests, Okwarabizie traveled to Iowa City Saturday for the Hawkeyes game with rival Wisconsin.

"I came down this weekend to make the relationship even stronger with the coaches," he said. "I feel close to them. It had been a while since I'd been there and they'd seen me.

"I talked with some of the coaches. I think they are really interested just like some other schools. Maybe they are waiting to see how I'm going to do if we get in the state tournament."

The Iowa coaches did not discuss a possible scholarship offer with Okwarabizie on Saturday, he said.

"It was just general conversation," he said. "They were asking me how I was doing in class and in school. They were asking me how basketball season has been going. They were really upbeat with me and said they were impressed."

Okwarabizie said he's happy with how recruiting is going for him. He plans to be playing college basketball next season.

"To be honest, all of these colleges and D-I schools, everyone is just knocking on my door right now," Okwarabizie said. "I'm available so anyone can recruit me. I don't want to come across to schools as being cocky so I'm trying to stay open to everybody. I want them to realize that I'm humble and willing to go wherever. I'm hoping it's a D-I school.

"I have time, though. The signing period isn't until April. My focus now is on my season and trying to finish it strong. Also, I'm trying to do the best I can in class. My grades are looking good right now but I want them to be as high as possible. I'm concentrating on school and basketball and the recruiting will take care of itself."

Okwarabizie spoke Saturday with former East High standout Adam Woodbury, Iowa's starting center. Francis encouraged the conversation.

"He said Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell, those are the guys I should talk to about what it's like to be a college player; what it's like as a freshman," Okwarabizie said. "They could give me insight."

While Okwarabizie's college destination remains up in the air, he's found a field of study he will be avoiding.

"I'm not really a big fan of math," he said. "It's probably going to be something not involving math. I've been researching some of the schools and what they have. They have so many things that you can choose from. But I'm looking to choose something in mass communications or public relations."

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