Uncovering O.J. Avworo

When you talk about AAU basketball talent in Clutch City, there is no bigger name than the Houston Hoops organization. A rising new force in the city's travel team basketball, however, is the Houston Swoosh. Their point guard, O.J. Avworo, hails from Alief Elsik High School and in parallel fashion is just starting to emerge onto the recruiting scene. His most recent trip took him to Stanford...

It is a busy year for Stanford Basketball recruiting in the Lone Star State.  In addition to the hotly debated recruitment of Bryan Beasley, the Cardinal recently had two of their current top targets come from Texas to The Farm for the Cardinal's overnight High Potential Camp.  Power forward Will Paul from Corpus Christi and point guard O.J. Avworo from Houston found themselves on the same team at the Stanford camp, in fact.  Paul is a name who has received some coverage by recruiting services, but Avworo has been almost a complete blank on the radar until this past month.

The silence surrounding the 6'0" 173-pount point guard has been due in no small part to the AAU club with which he is playing, which is in its embryonic stages.  Avworo additionally endured a rocky junior season at Alief Elsik High School, which was marred with individual and team disappointments.  Elsik was ranked as the preseason #1 team in the highest class (5A) of competition in Texas, with a wealth of talented scorers.  But politics and poor chemistry led to losses and infighting, with Avworo bearing an unfair load of criticism.

"My best friend [Chinemelu Elonu] was a 6'10" senior who signed with New Mexico State, but then schools like Texas and UConn came hard after him.  New Mexico State wouldn't let him out of his LOI," Avworo begins.  "We were expected to be dominant this year.  My friend was a senior, and a star.  I thought a lot about that.  I decided to defer a lot of leadership to him and take more of a passive role behind the team's leaders."

"We had a lot of scorers, which ended up hurting the team a lot," Avworo continues.  "Guys would score 20 points one night and then two the next.  Their families would tell them they should be scoring more.  That's where the trouble brewed."

The junior floor general had games of his own where he scored points in bunches, but he averaged a quiet 11 ppg over the course of the season.  His leading desire was to set up his teammates.  Many of them felt the need to score, so he worked to distribute the ball the best he could.  Avworo's 12 assists per game jump right off the stat sheet, demonstrating his ability to successfully feed the Elsik offensive machine.

But that machine was constructed in a nontraditional manner.  Elsik ran a run-and-gun offense that Avworo says was patterned much like the famed Loyola Marymount teams of 15 years ago, which scored regularly 150 or more points in games.  On a typical possession for the Rams, Elonu grabs the rebound and hits Avworo, who pushes the ball up the floor.  By team rule, Avworo must make the outlet pass to one of his wings before he crosses halfcourt.

"I led Houston in assists this year, but I was still the most criticized player on the team when people didn't get their points," he shares.  "I learned a lot.  You can handle anything if you can handle a group of stars, be the point guard and run the team, while being disliked by people.  I think I really improved as a point guard.  I didn't look at my stats and scoring.  I just tried to run the team the best I could."

"It was good, though, because a basketball season should never be like that again in my life," Avworo adds, putting a happy face onto a difficult experience.

With a troubling high school season behind him, Avworo carefully approached his decision for which club he should join to play his AAU basketball this spring and summer.  He ultimately chose the Houston Swoosh, which is a young organization that is playing this year without a contract with one of the big three shoe companies.  That has the Swoosh, and Avworo, low on the political totem pole for exposure and invitations.  To wit, he is at home this week while the rest of the top recruits in his class attend the adidas Superstar, Nike All-American or Reebok ABCD camps.

When the Swoosh approached Avworo to play with them this off-season, he knew the lack of a shoe company deal would be an issue.  The club has started to fashion a bond with Reebok, which allowed a pair of Swoosh players to receive an invitation to ABCD, though Avworo was too late to join them by the time he signed up with the Swoosh.  Despite the missed opportunity, Avworo has no regrets and is upbeat when talking about his new team.

"The guys are happy to be with me, which by itself is refreshing," he comments.  "We have Harrison Smith, who is an under ranked top 100 player who should be higher, and DeAndre Jordan in the 2007 class, who has loads of offers.  I think right now, with some new guys we have added, we are the best Houston team around."

"Our coach does a good job with workouts, and he breeds big men," Avworo adds.  "He puts a lot of pressure on me.  I take a lot of hits, and I like that.  It makes me better."

While the Elsik point guard is unable to be seen at the shoe camps this week, he will be on display next week at the Great American Shootout, an annual major July tournament in North Dallas.  Afterward, Avworo and the Swoosh will head to national tournaments in Las Vegas and Los Angeles for the Reebok Big Time and Best of Summer, respectively.

We already took a good look at Avworo last week at Stanford's High Potential Camp.  It was surprising to see how he played in a camp environment, which is markedly different from how he plays with his high school and AAU teams.  Avworo has been knocked by observers in Texas for not being an aggressive or productive scorer while playing the point, yet at Stanford's camp he played to an opposite set of strengths.  He took control of his team's offense and was a primary scoring threat, attacking the basket.  In one-on-one and three-on-three competitions, he was a ruthless scorer.  Avworo, in fact, won the camp's one-on-one competition in the highest division of play.  When his defender sagged off a few feet, Avworo put up and drained an endless stream of jumpers.  When he was defended more tightly, he showcased his athleticism to get to the rim and finish.

Putting those performances together with his non-camp resume, you can see the completeness of Avworo's game.  However, he found a tough critic in Trent Johnson and walked away from the Stanford camp with a clear instruction of what the Cardinal head coach wants from him this month.

"I talked with Coach Johnson and he told me straight up what he wants to see in the July period.  He'll be watching me in Denton next week," the recruit reveals.  "He said I'm a great athlete but he wants to see me set up my teammates more and defend.  Those are areas where I normally excel, so I'm confident."

"I get knocked in Houston as not a good enough scorer," he notes.  "In [camp] workouts, I can do that a lot.  In games, I can do both but I think the best thing is to set up my teammates."

With a 4.2 GPA on a four-point scale at Elsik High School, Avworo owns a transcript that has attracted top academic schools across the country to his recruitment.  In addition to Stanford, he has drawn attention from the likes of Rice, SMU, Yale and Columbia.  However, he remains outwardly disappointed in his test score.

"When I took the ACT, it was just a horrible time," he offers.  "My PSAT predicted a range of what I should do - a range of 1100 to 1250 on the SAT.  But I scored just a 23 on the ACT, which is pretty bad.  I'm taking the SAT in September and have a rigorous set of classes to prepare me, plus some books."

Before you pass judgment on Avworo's test score, you should sit down and have a conversation with the student-athlete.  He is one of the most articulate young men I have encountered in this business.  The Houstonian credits his communications skills and clear thinking to the competitive speech and debate circuit in which he has participated the last few years.  The level at which he plays basketball does not allow him the time for research that policy debate requires, but he is a successful Lincoln-Douglas debater in local tournaments.

Avworo has a different debate he has to play out in his own mind soon, he says.

"The academic schools have been looking at me, but then there are also some mid-majors.  Colorado State has been recruiting me.  They really need a point guard, and I could play in a great conference.  I could really look good in a program like that.  Tulsa has a new coaching staff and is starting to recruit me as well," Avworo describes.  "I have to make a decision soon if I want to go somewhere for academics, or if I want to focus on my development to make it to the NBA."

"Right now I'm leaning toward the academics of the school," he continues.  "I'm really looking for an academic institution because that is what my dad wants, and I know that is what is best for my future."

In considering a putative 'basketball versus education' matrix, Avworo realizes that one school is found in a unique quadrant.

"Stanford the place where I can get both.  They are in a great conference and are a great academic school," he offers.  "I get two birds with one stone."

"I can honestly say after going to Stanford, I would really like to go there," Avworo concludes.  "My friend Bryan Beasley really liked Stanford, too.  He just committed to Texas A&M.  I was there with him, and they showed us a good time."

With the rising profile of the Houston Swoosh, we expect Avworo to be more visible this month than at any prior time in his recruitment.  Stay tuned for news from O.J. Avworo's developing story, as the sleeper Texas talent emerges in the coming weeks.

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