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Okoye found perfect fit with Keydets
The VMI senior will play his last game on campus at Cameron Hall tonight against Longwood.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
VMI senior forward Stan Okoye (11), guarded by Radford’s Blake Smith, ranks second in school history in rebounds with 923 and fourth in scoring with 2,069 points.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
LEXINGTON — After being named the Big South’s 2012-13 preseason basketball player of the year last October, VMI’s Stan Okoye was asked to stand at a podium in Charlotte, N.C., and field questions as part of the league’s annual Media Day.
“Stan got up there and told everybody he was a ‘tweener’ and that’s why nobody recruited him,” Keydets coach Duggar Baucom recalled Thursday.
“Then, Barclay Radebaugh, whose [Charleston Southern] team was picked to win the league, got up and said it best, I think.
“Barclay said: ‘Stan, you’re not a ‘tweener.’ In our league you’re called a nightmare because you’re such a difficult matchup.’”
Baucom could only smile. Nobody had to inform him that everybody else’s nightmare was his dream player.
Well, Stan the Man will work his final hoops rodeo today in his home barn of Cameron Hall, where the Keydets (12-16, 7-8) face Longwood (7-23, 4-11) on Senior Day.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s second all time in school history in rebounds  and fourth in scoring [2,069 points],” Baucom said of his 6-foot-5 jumping jack forward.
“We knew Stan was a good get for us but not all this. He’s had an unbelievable career.”
Not bad for a guy who didn’t land another Division I offer besides VMI coming out of Knightdale High School near Raleigh, N.C., in 2009.
“Stan played under the basket in high school and that’s why nobody recruited him because they didn’t think he was big enough to play in the post,” Baucom said.
“And he didn’t have any perimeter skills. His coach told me he never shot a 3-pointer in high school. And then he goes out and makes a career-high six 3s in our win at Liberty on Tuesday. Stan just really worked hard on his outside shot and ball-handling. He certainly made himself into a true mismatch problem.”
Ask longtime UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, who watched the 6-foot-5 Okoye put up 34 points and 16 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 90-79 win at VMI on Feb. 8.
“When Stan Okoye gets going like that, he’s virtually impossible to stop,” Biedenbach marveled. “I’m glad I won’t have to see that guy anymore, hopefully.”
Okoye has scored 30 or more points six times and has produced 10 double-doubles (points/rebounds) in 28 games. His 21-point average leads the Big South and ranks 10th in Division I. His nine rebounds per game also top the league.
“Stan is a freak physically in that he’s all arms and legs and has a small torso,” Baucom noted. “Even though he’s barely 6-5 his arms are literally 7 feet long because we’ve measured them from fingertip to fingertip. So he plays much bigger and longer than his size.”
Okoye played center his freshman season at VMI. Despite going up against bigger defenders every game, Okoye averaged 14.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and had 44 blocks playing only 22 minutes per game, mostly off the bench.
“Boy, I’m going to miss Stan,” Baucom said. “Anybody would miss that 21 [points] and 9 [rebounds]. Somebody asked me the other day who I think is close to him for player of year in the league. I said: ‘I don’t think anybody is close to him. I think there’s other guys you could pick, but nobody is close to him.’ ”
Now the end is near for Okoye. Today will be the last time he plays in front of the corps at Cameron. Perhaps no player in VMI history has ever been more involved in the whole experience of the institute.
“He’s Vice President on the VMI Honor Court for all his academic stars,” Baucom said. “He has done so many things here that have endeared him not just to the corps, but the old corps alumni. Everybody here just loves the guy.”
Okoye confessed he never thought his VMI hoops career would be this stellar. He made the league’s All-Freshman team in 2009-10 and was a second-team All-League selection last season. He is a lock to make first team this time.
“I probably never would have believed all this,” Okoye said. “I wasn’t as confident when I came in here. I was surprised I had such a good freshman season. Since, all I’ve wanted to do is get better and better every year.
“It’s funny, growing up I was always taller than everybody ... I was like 6-feet in the eighth grade. When I wanted to shoot, I always told not to do that. All through high school I attacked the rim and things like that, I wasn’t a shooter. Then I got here and I made 19 3s my first year. And I never thought I could shoot.”
Okoye expects his parents, two brothers and sister, and other close friends to be on hand today.
“It’s been a great experience and I’m really going to miss it a lot,” Okoye said. “The past three years I’ve seen other guys go through [Senior Day] and I never thought it would be my turn. All I can do is savor the moment and make sure we get the win, that’s what most important to us.”
After next week’s Big South tournament, barring VMI winning the title and advancing to the NCAA tournament, there will no games left on Stan Okoye’s schedule.
Or, maybe there will.
“I want to keep playing basketball,” he said. “Every year my love for the game gets stronger and stronger. Some probably believe I’m not an NBA player, but nobody believed I was a Division I player, either.
“So now that I’ve convinced them that I’m that type of player, I’m going to go play professional ball. If not the NBA, I don’t mind going overseas to play. I want to travel the world. I want to visit every continent before I leave this life and that would be a great start.”
Don’t bet against the “tweener” making it happen.
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