Vols land 7-footer

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Tennessee wasted no time in filling the roster spot opened up by junior Jarnell Stokes' decision to make himself available for the 2014 NBA Draft.

The Vols have secured a commitment from Kingsley Okoroh, a 7-foot-1, 250-pound Class of 2014 post prospect from Westwind Prep of Phoenix, Ariz., who has pro potential, according to one former NBA player.

Originally from Watford, England, Okoroh averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks and 4 assists per game in 2013-14, his only season of American basketball. Rated a three-star recruit by Scout.com, his size and potential sparked interest from Tennessee, Wichita State, Georgia Tech, Oakland, Nebraska, Clemson, San Jose State, Portland, Purdue, Gonzaga and UTEP. He also impressed former NBA player Tom Chambers, who has twin sons on the Westwind team.

Jai Steadman, Okoroh's prep coach, told IT that "Tom watched Kingsley one day and said "Do they know this guy, with hard work, could end up in the NBA?"

Okoroh sounds like the polar opposite of the guy whose spot on the Vol roster he is taking. Whereas Stokes came to Tennessee as a heralded five-star prospect known for his offensive capabilities, Okoroh is an under-the-radar prospect known for his defensive skills.

"He's a Roy Hibbert type," Steadman said, referring to the 7-foot-2 center for the Indiana Pacers. "He's not as good offensively but he's a better shot-blocker. He had games this year where he was upwards of 14, 15 blocks per game. He's an unbelievable shot-blocker who controls the paint."

Okoroh averaged 9.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in nine games during the European Under-18 Championships of 2013. He has refined his offense a bit since arriving in America last summer but still needs some polish.

"He can shoot from the free-throw line and the short corners," Steadman said. "We do a lot of pick and pop, and he's a pretty good free-throw shooter. But I've got some ball-hogging guards, and they wanted him down low to pick up their misses. He's a very good passer for a big man.

"He's still got a long way to go but, defensively, he's ready to play. There's maybe a little Dikembe Mutombo in him," the coach added, referring to a 7-foot-2 post who competed in the NBA from 1991-2009. "He's not as athletic maybe, but he's somewhat in that range of player."

For a guy with a limited background in organized basketball, Okoroh shows considerable potential for growth … especially as a scorer.

"He's got a really nice, soft touch, a nice hook shot," Steadman said. "He doesn't score a gazillion but he can score around the basket. Being European, he really understands the game, has a good feel for it. He's only been playing three or four years, so the sky's the limit."

Okoroh, who turns 19 on April 24, has packed on 25 pounds in the past year without losing any quickness.

"He was about 225 pounds when I got him in August," Steadman said. "He can bench 280 pounds. He's come a long way in our weight room and, of course, ours is nothing like Tennessee's."

A key to the Vols' recruitment of Okoroh was strength coach Nicodemus Christopher.

"He's become good friends with Nick," Steadman said. "He needs more strength but I'd rather have a two-star that will work than a five-star. Having a strength coach as his best friend will help him, too."

One reason Okoroh made such dramatic strides in prep school was the fact he played the equivalent of two high school seasons. Steadman, who has two years' coaching experience in the NBA Developmental League, arranged an NBA-type schedule for Westwind Prep.

"We finished 38-30, and I know I wore his legs out early," the coach said. "He looked a little sluggish at times but he moved better lately. He can move well enough to play in the SEC, the ACC, the Pac 12."

In keeping with Cuonzo Martin's emphasis on character, as well as athleticism, Okoroh reportedly is a quality person.

"He's a wonderful wonderful kid," Steadman said. "He's a two-star, and he doesn't understand that coming from Europe, but that's OK.

"You guys are getting a steal."


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