Behind the Numbers
You can't tell the story of Sean Ogirri without starting with his sick stats.
Ogirri, a 6-foot-3, 165-pound senior combo guard with a shot as smooth as his favorite musician, Justin Timberlake, averaged 17.3 points and six assists per game last year as a point guard and second scoring option for Denver East High, which went 22-2 and lost to ThunderRidge High in the 2003 Class 5A state championship game.
That was just a warm-up, though. This year, Ogirri (pronounced o-gear-ee) put up even more ridiculous numbers as East's go-to guy, averaging close to 30 points per game while leading his team to an undefeated season (24-0) and capping it off with a 31-point performance in the Angels' 5A state title rematch victory over ThunderRidge, 64-56.
But behind the numbers is the true story of Sean Ogirri. It's a story about reputation, dedication, sacrifice and family. It's a feel-good story, like one of those "Behind the Music" episodes where everything works out in the end.
It's a story that fittingly begins in Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball and home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Just two years ago, Ogirri was playing high school ball for SABIS International Charter, a 250-student private school in Springfield.
But despite Springfield's rich hoop history, Ogirri wasn't being challenged while running the point.
"Basketball back in Springfield wasn't too good," says Ogirri, 18. "It was a 3A school, so I didn't play against good competition. I'd just bring it to the hole and they'd foul me or I'd make a layup. My mom said I should come out here with my brothers because people are going D-I from here."
So before his junior season, Ogirri left Springfield, where he lived with his mom and sister, and moved in with two of his older brothers — Gabriel Rodriguez and Henry Ogirri — in Denver to play for a bigger school on a bigger stage at East.
Ogirri says he chose East over Cherry Creek High because of the Angels' reputation for producing Division I talent. In 12 years as head coach, Rudy Carey has transformed East into one of the nation's top programs by winning two state championships, most recently in 1999, and sending players to big-time college programs like Oregon, Minnesota and UMass. Both of his state championship teams were nationally ranked by USA Today.
But while East is recognized in Denver as a premier program, Ogirri came to the school with no reputation at all.
"I was surprised at how good he was," Carey says. "We get guys all the time, so I didn't know anything about him. He came out of nowhere."
This is where the story gets really good.
It goes without saying that Ogirri made the team last season. He started the year as the Angels' sixth man, was starting by New Year's and played well enough to earn a spot on the Rocky Mountain News All-Colorado team. Then, after a solid summer in which he participated in the prestigious adidas ABCD Camp, Ogirri signed with Wichita State University this past fall.
In the process, Ogirri has become the state's scariest offensive threat since, well, Carey says it best.
"He's a similar player to Chauncey (Billups)," says Carey. "Their knowledge of the game is the same. Sean's probably a better scorer at a high school level."
But such acclaim didn't come without sacrifice.
When he first came to Colorado, Ogirri already had a good — but not great — perimeter shot and was admittedly more of an Allen Iverson-type player with a penchant to drive rather than shoot.
But thanks to a rigorous post-practice regimen last winter — in which he shot at least 500 jumpers a day after practice while his brother Henry, 20, rebounded for him — Ogirri developed a deadly jumper and his current weapon of choice, which had helped him nail over 50 percent of his 3-pointers and 60 percent of his field goals through most of the season.
"He's the type of player who can create his own shot," Carey says. "It seems to be a lost art for guards to create their own shot at the next level."
Henry isn't the only sibling who's helped Ogirri develop his game. Ogirri credits Gabriel, 30, for teaching him game-time situations and fundamentals. And the oldest brother of the bunch, 32-year-old former post player Miguel Rodriguez, taught Sean how to play aggressively, dive for loose balls and never let up.
In addition, Miguel and Gabriel (who have the same mother as Sean and Henry but a different father) used to work at basketball camps across the country at colleges such as Maryland, Villanova and UMass. The older brothers made a deal with camp organizers that they would work the camps for free as long as Henry and Sean could attend for free.
"My brothers have been there the whole way," says Ogirri, whose cousin, Orlando Antigua, played for the Harlem Globetrotters and the University of Pittsburgh and is now an assistant at Pitt. "I'm taking all their gifts and using them as one."
As a result, Ogirri is lethal in every aspect of the game. When defenders press too hard against the shot, he has no problem cutting to the hole like back in Springfield or dishing the ball to fellow SchoolSports All-Area selections Charlie Mays and Dazzmond Thornton.
"He does what we need him to do to win," Carey says. "This year we needed him to score more. Last year he deferred to seniors, but this year he's taking more leadership. It shows his versatility, his knowledge for the game."
Which leads us back to the stats.
Last season, Carey needed Ogirri to be a pure point guard and play second fiddle to a senior class that included current University of Denver freshman Antonio Porch. This season, Carey asked Ogirri to shoulder more of the scoring burden. And he was certainly up to the task, dropping at least 30 points in four of East's first eight games and 40 or more in two of the eight.
In December at the Roscoe's Los Angeles City Classic, which East won by beating three L.A.-based teams and one Alabama powerhouse, Ogirri averaged 33 points per game. In the championship game, he unloaded a career-high 46 points, hit six consecutive and eight total 3-pointers, dished out six dimes, made four steals and grabbed five rebounds in an 82-71 East win over West End High (Ala.).
And there's even a story behind those stats. Ogirri did all that damage against West End's star guard, Glenn Miles, who's rated the nation's No. 95 recruit in the Class of 2004 by SchoolSports.com. While Miles signed with SEC power Alabama, Ogirri was more of a mid-major prospect who garnered slight interest from a handful of big-time schools such as Utah, Tulsa, Memphis and Pittsburgh before signing with Wichita State.
Carey says Ogirri's senior season performances have proven he's one of the top guards out West, and if he hadn't already signed with Wichita State, Ogirri would be getting around-the-clock offers from elite programs.
"The lack of D-I players in Colorado hurts players' reputations," says Carey.
But Ogirri knows reputations are arbitrary. He also knows all about another mid-major school that produced John Stockton.
"Wichita's an up-and-coming program," Ogirri says. "They've got great coaches and a great program. I hope the school gets to the caliber of Gonzaga."
If it does, that'll just be one more chapter to the Sean Ogirri story. A story he doesn't see ending anytime soon.