It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Certainly that is the driving theme in the high school chapter of the Kezie Okpala Story. The very first recruit ever signed by Coach Jerod Haase to Stanford, Okpala’s rise in stature within the national ranks of the Class of ‘17 has been meteoric to say the least. Everything about Okpala has skyrocketed since he was a 5’10” high school sophomore. Okpala now stands at 6’8”, having grown a legitimate 10 inches as a high schooler.
That’s not the only place where he’s raised his profile. Okpala went from averaging eight points a game as a sophomore to averaging 30 points a game for Coach Pat Barrett’s Southern California All-Stars traveling team. Barrett might not be a name you know, but if you’re a Stanford basketball fan, you should be. In addition to coaching current NBA players Kevin Love, Klay Thompson, and Aaron Afflalo, Barrett has coached Stanford luminaries starting with the Collins Twins and including Casey Jacobsen, Josh Childress, Andy and Anthony Brown.
Barrett expressed confidence that at 6’8” Okpala may not be ready to dominate at the college level but there is no question that he’ll be able to contribute during his first year on The Farm. The Stanford lineage in Barrett’s program is useful as it helped Coach Barrett give us an idea of Kezie’s game. Style-wise, he likened Okpala to kind of a hybrid of Anthony Brown and Josh Childress.
One of the most intriguing takeaways from Coach Barrett was the notion that Stanford’s coaches have already talked to Okpala about bringing the ball upcourt and initiating the offense, perhaps not in a full-time capacity but certainly Okpala is comfortable with the ball in his hands both as a driver and a distributor. That kind of versatility is becoming a premium want for coaches in today’s game.
Coach Mark Hill, Kezie’s high school coach at Anaheim Esperanza High School, also throws another name into the comparison stew: “He's a dead ringer for Brandon Ingram from Duke.” Coach Hill says that Kezie has a “quiet demeanor,” doesn’t care for the limelight, and is a “great teammate.” Certainly the former attributes come out in our interview with Kezie. He comes off as a no-nonsene player, and it’s easy to understand why he would have a connection with Coach Haase in this regard.
As far as his game goes, Coach Hill cited Kezie’s shot blocking and rebounding as strengths. For an area of improvement, Hill mentioned guarding smaller players on the perimeter.
Okpala was recently elevated to a five-star recruit by Scout. He was also named the Cal-Hi Sports Division II Player of the Year, he made the 2017 All-L.A. Times team, and the Orange County Register’s Player of the Year. He’ll be joining his fellow classmates on campus this summer, and it’s clear that he’s going to have a chance to compete for playing time from the jump.
Kezie is not a self-promoter, but it’s clear at this point that he’s content to let his game do the talking, an attribute that I’m sure Coach Haase appreciates. If he continues his incredible ascent in his first year as a collegian