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Steve Alford Goes JUCO for a Center: Ikenna Okwarabizie Is UCLA Bound

No Stephen Zimmerman? No problem for Steve Alford. Ikenna Okwarabizie, a 6'10" center from Tyler Junior College in Texas will be joining the Bruins next year as the fourth member of Steve Alford's 2015 recruiting class.


If you were concerned about Stephen Zimmerman choosing UNLV over UCLA, and if you were worried that Steve Alford might have trouble finding a big man to step in immediately and contribute, you'll be pleased to know that Steve Alford thinks he has found a solution: Ikenna Okwarabizie.

Okwarabizie (pronounced oak-war-uh-BEE-zee-ay) is a native of Lagos, Nigeria. He attended St. Louis Christian Academy as a high school junior before transferring to East High in Sioux City, Iowa for his senior season. He enrolled at Tyler Junior College in Texas in 2014 for his freshman year.

According to Eric Bossi at Rivals, "As a freshman Okwarazibie averaged 6.5 points and seven rebounds while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from the free throw line."

As a JUCO player for the Tyler Apaches, Okwarabizie received offers from several colleges, including Iowa, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Iowa State, and Texas. As early as October 2014 there were reports of interest from Steve Alford.

As a member of the 2014 recruiting class, Okwarabizie was rated as a two-star recruit. At the time, he had offers from Drake, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, and Southern Mississippi. According to his high school coach, Ras Vanderloo, it was Ikenna's intention to sign with a four-year school in 2014, but the NCAA clearinghouse didn't rule on his eligibility until early October of last year.

"All the rumors that floated around last year about this guy not ever being eligible to play? Not true,'' said Vanderloo, weary of the gossip. "Now, the talk is that he'll probably play one year at Tyler and then redshirt next year wherever he decides to he's going.''

You read that right--there is a good chance that Okwarabizie will redshirt next year. That probably makes sense considering the fact that Ikenna didn't start playing basketball until 2010. Before then, his primary sport was soccer.

At 6'11" and 250 pounds, Ikenna is a true center with a back-to-the-basket game. He's raw, but he's undeniably athletic. According to his coach at Tyler,

"He's very physical. He's like a skilled Charles Oakley. He has good form. He's a big, physical man. He can score on the block and step out to the elbows and he rebounds well. He defends the post well. He's just scratching the surface."

Based on the videos I've seen, I'd say that describing Ikenna as a "skilled Charles Oakley" is a real stretch. However, according to Tracy Pierson, "reportedly, Okwarabizie is a good student."

Here's a short recent video clip of Okwarabizie in action for Tyler JC against Faulkner State in the National Tournament:

Perhaps the most interesting thing from Pierson's report is this tidbit about Okwarabizie's decision to accept the offer from UCLA (emphasis added):

"I think there's probably three factors. One he did a great job recruiting him. Second I have a long relationship with coach Alford and have sent him kids over the years and they've all been successful athletically and academically and ultimately its UCLA. We just thought this was the best fit for him."

For the sake of UCLA basketball and Ikenna Okwarabizie, I hope that it turns out to be a great fit. But this again raises questions about Steve Alford's ability to bring in elite local recruits.

Welcome to UCLA, Ikenna!