Okoro a defensive fit for Ducks

Okoro a defensive fit for Ducks

CHAMPAIGN — Brian Cupples felt like he had a good idea about which way Francis Okoro’s recruitment would go in the last week.

Okoro and his family had kept his recruitment close to the vest — even going as far as asking for college coaches not to visit Normal West during his sophomore season except for games — but the Wildcats’ coach said he felt like his junior big man had his decision made.

Okoro ultimately committed to Oregon late Monday night, choosing the Ducks from a final three that included Illinois and Purdue. Cupples’ instinct was right.

“I asked him last week, ‘Do you know where you’re going? I don’t want to know, but do you know?.’ ” Cupples said. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ I internally guessed right.”

The question for Okoro now is if he’ll reclassify. The 6-foot-9 center is ranked as a four-star prospect by both Rivals and 247Sports and is ranked in the top 50 by both in the Class of 2019. Okoro’s intention is to join the Ducks for the 2018-19 season, although he still has some academic work to complete.

It’s a move Cupples supports.

“My opinion with that is if you’ve got the credits and you’ve got a scholarship to Oregon I say go,” he said. “That’s a no brainer, but that’s (a decision) for him and his family.”

Okoro will join an Oregon frontcourt that brings back former Whitney Young standout Paul White — a key part of the Dolphins’ 2014 Class 4A state championship team — and rising sophomore Kenny Wooten, who was a one-time Illinois target. If Okoro does reclassify, he’ll join two other 2018 big men in 7-2, five-star big man Bol Bol and four-star forward Miles Norris in addition to 6-8, five-star wing Louis King.

Cupples said Okoro’s initial fit with the Ducks will be through his defense and rebounding. Okoro averaged 15.7 points, 12.4 rebounds and two blocks at Normal West during the 2017-18 season and was a News-Gazette All-State First Team selection while tying for 13th in the Illinois Mr. Basketball voting. He’s currently putting up 13.7 points, nine rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game for Brad Beal Elite on the Nike EYBL circuit.

“I think he’s going to be great defensively,” Cupples said. “I think he’s going to be great on the glass and running the floor. I think he’s going to have to continue to work on things half court offensively, kind of finding a niche in that.”

Making his offensive game more instinctive, Cupples said, will be key to Okoro’s growth. He already has that defensively — where his long arms and athleticism make him a natural shot blocker — and with his rebounding.

“I think his offensive instincts are still evolving,” Cupples said. “It’s going to come with more playing. He’s still working on the game, so he’s still thinking instead of just reacting. He practices moves and works on moves. It’s taking the things he practices and then instinctually doing them.”