The optimism that surrounded the St. John's Basketball Program when Steve Lavin was hired over four years ago was a welcome sight, as the once-great program that hadn't made an NCAA tournament since 2002 had hired a coach who had seen a fair amount of success at his previous coaching juncture: UCLA.
Unfortunately, the St. John's Red Storm have not lived up to expectations since Lavin took over, making the NCAA Tournament once, in his first year as coach. Lavin has, however, done well on the recruiting trail and has gotten some solid players worked into the program now. Players such as D`Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan now have many games under their belt and have logged some major minutes. They are already integral to the team's success. One player who saw large amounts of playing time last season, but was not able to produce offensively was Chris Obekpa.
Chris Obekpa was born in Makurdi, Nigeria, and moved to the United States in 2010 so that his basketball career could grow. He was courted by a large number of programs and finally settled on St. John's, for reasons explained to Syracuse.com's Mike Waters:
After leaving Nigeria to come all the way to America, Obekpa chose St. John’s because he wanted to avoid another big move.
"As soon as I came to America, I was in New York,’’ Obekpa said. "I didn’t want to go somewhere else and adjust again. I didn’t want to start fresh.’’
Despite Obekpa playing over 20 minutes per game in the past two seasons, his numbers have been lacking. Last year, Obekpa averaged 3.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, and only 0.8 assists per game. He has, however, been known for his defensive abilities, including his shot blocking. Obekpa actually set a team record in his first game in a St. John's uniform, rejecting eight shots.
To say that his offensive game has to improve, even marginally, is an understatement. Obekpa will no doubt be a starter this season, meaning that he can no longer score only 4.0 points per game. St. John's simply cannot afford that. Fortunately, Obekpa is improving and even if he bumps his numbers up to around 6-7 points per game, the Johnnies will see a noted improve, especially combined with the fact that he will be have gotten even better than he already is on defense.
After finishing in the middle of the standings last season and bowing out in the first round of the NIT to eight-seeded Robert Morris, St. John's is looking to actually make some noise in the Big East and get back to the big dance. This could certainly be their year and Chris Obekpa could certainly play a large part in getting them back there.
It's an auspicious time for St. John's, seeing how the departure of Doug McDermott at Creighton, Buzz Williams at Marquette, and Bryce Cotton has seemingly left a power vacuum in the top spots in the conference. I believe that this year will be the year in which the Johnnies rise to the occasion and finish in the top three spots in the Big East, due in large part to a solid starting five, with Chris Obekpa in the paint. He's even stated what his aspirations are for RedStormSports.com:
What do you want to accomplish this season: Be the best rebounder and BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.
That sounds like a man with a plan.
Note: if you'd like to see other interesting notes about Obekpa's personality, view his player profile on RedStormSports.com. Chris Obekpa may have good basketball skills, but he also has good taste in literature and film, to boot.