The Stanford 2017 basketball class is headlined by Esperanza (Ca.) small forward Kezie Okpala. The four-star recruit has grown ten inches in four years according to his coach, but the now-small forward still has the handles and speed of a guard.
"Versatile. Being 6-foot-8 now obviously he has size and has the ability to shoot from the outside and has ballhandling ability,” Esperanza head basketball coach Mark Hill said.
Serving different roles on the team has helped develop Okpala’s all-around game.
"I can adapt to whatever the coach needs me to do," Okpala said. "I did that in my high school sophomore year. I was a defender mainly and was still only 6-foot-2, so I adapted. When the opportunity came in, I took advantage of my opportunities and that is when I've started to become a main scorer."
Okpala has done just that, kicking off his 2017 by averaging 33 points and nearly 10 rebounds in four games. Those stats are loud, but the small forward is quiet, very quiet.
“I warned all the Division I coaches, all the coaches when they came in for visits," Hill said. "I said, 'You have to be careful. He is very very, quiet.' I'm sure there are a lot of coaches who are used to guys who are talkative and boastful and a little bit braggadocious, but he is not like that”
But don't let that fool you.
“I think the one thing you want to know is he doesn't lack confidence in (himself).”
That personality fit with Jerod Haase and the Stanford Cardinal, who Hill said made Okpala, who was already a Stanford commit at the time, a top priority when they were hired. He said one of the first things Haase did as a head coach was to fly and see the small forward.
“(Haase) felt that highly of him and connected with him obviously," Hall said. "Kezie is a 4.5 GPA, so obviously academics is important in his choice of schools...Stanford fit the bill there and then it just had to be how it was going to fit basketball-wise for him.”
Haase’s connection with Okpala, along with what a Stanford degree could mean made the Cardinal an easy decision.
“It's the best of both worlds, the coaches and players when I went for my visit, everything felt like home," Okpala said. "It felt very normal and very comfortable. Academically, they are very strong and basketball-wise it is the Pac-12 so you can't get any better than that."
In the meantime, the Stanford commit is working with his current coach to improve his shooting and rebounding.
“He doesn't beat around the bush," Okpala said. "He tells me what I need to do what I need to get better at.”