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James Okonkwo Could be an Under-the-Radar Steal for West Virginia Basketball

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He has not been in the country for very long, but 2023 basketball prospect James Okonkwo quickly captured the attention of some of the top college basketball programs in the country. Playing for coach James Dempsey at Beckley Prep, Okonkwo held the interest of programs like Rutgers, Iowa and Michigan before ultimately announcing his commitment to West Virginia Thursday afternoon.

A native of Maidenhead, England, Okonkwo (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) arrived in the U.S. last August through Dempsey’s non-profit, IJN WV. Add a broken finger at the start of the season and a slew of game cancelations due to the pandemic and Okonkwo only played in about 10 high school games this year. Even so, that was enough as Okonkwo becomes the first commit in WVU coach Bob Huggins’ 2023 recruiting class.

Speaking with West Virginia Sports Now, Dempsey said most WVU fans probably do not know that much about Okonkwo, but said they will be excited when they see what he can do. Rivals rates Okonkwo as a four-star recruit and the No. 87 recruit in the nation for the 2023 class, high marks considering how little he has played in America. Dempsey said that rating is just a testament to how good Okonkwo really is.

“It’s going to be hard for WVU fans to know how good of a get they’ve got because there’s not that much (information) out about him,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey has coached international players before, such as former WVU forward Oscar Tshiebwe and Baylor’s Flo Thamba, but said Okonkwo stands out from the pack. Instead, Dempsey is reminded of former WVU forward Nathan Adrian, another in-state find by Huggins.

“He’s different from any of them, he’s a different type of athlete,” Dempsey said. “He can be a Nathan Adrian-type guy but with NBA athleticism. He’s got a fantastic motor and is extremely coachable.”

At 6-foot-9, Adrian matches Okonkwo in height and also shot 40.7% on 54 3-point attempts as a junior for the Mountaineers in 2015-16. He averaged 9.6 points and 3.4 rebounds for WVU as a senior the following year.

Despite being a big man, Dempsey said Okonkwo has some shooting ability and can already guard on the perimeter. He is also starting to become a more competent dribbler, according to Dempsey. Okonkwo’s combination of size and skills allows him to play anywhere from three to five in a lineup and allows him to fit in almost any system.

“James would be fantastic in Press Virginia if they got back into that,” Dempsey said. “But he would also do well in Huggins’ two-big lineup. He’s going to be able to stretch the floor because he’s going to be able to shoot real well.”

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Cody spent the last two years getting his master's degree in journalism from WVU. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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