UK recruiting: Good luck pinning Okonoboh down: He won't say who's his favorite

jtipton@herald-leader.comJuly 12, 2013 

INDIANAPOLIS — As the bullet entered the body, it nicked the heart of a taxi driver. Fate had placed Sylvester Okonoboh on the wrong end of a gun.

"He wasn't supposed to live," his son said. "But he did live.

"The next week I was born."

Hence, the father named his son Goodluck Okonoboh. Good luck, indeed. The son grew up to become a 6-foot-9 basketball player in the Adidas Invitational here and a top 40 prospect in the high school class of 2014.

Okonoboh, a former high school teammate of Nerlens Noel, figures to follow the former Kentucky star into the top ranks of college basketball. He certainly knows the path he's on, having closely followed Noel's recruiting process. "24/7," he said. "I've seen all of it so I'm used to it already."

Okonoboh knows the recruiting process well enough to be noncommittal at this stage of the journey. He says he's keeping open his options, which include Indiana, Duke, Florida and Louisville. And, who knows, might someday include Kentucky.

"Everybody recruiting me right now is my favorite," he said this week. "I'm not settling on anybody right now. So everyone is a favorite."

That hasn't stopped what could be called the recruiting world's sub-culture from anointing one program or another as the favorite. (The supposed favorite is Indiana, where another of Okonoboh's friends, Noah Vonleh, will be a highly-regarded freshman next season.)

Since going to Bloomington for summer workouts, Vonleh has tipped off Okonoboh about what college basketball is about compared to the high school level. "He said it's no joke," Okonoboh said.

The idea of Indiana or any other program in the recruiting competition being the favorite made Okonoboh laugh.

From where does this so-called inside information originate?

"I have no clue," said Okonoboh, a remarkably good-natured prospect who patiently fielded reporters' questions. "I have no favorites. None."

UK assistant Orlando Antigua spoke with Okonoboh prior to the July camps. He offered the player advice. "Play hard and show I'm a top player," Okonoboh recalled.

He spoke highly of each college program mentioned in a question. What do you think of:

Indiana. He noted Victor Oladipo's rise from another good prospect to second player chosen in this year's NBA Draft. So Tom Crean's program can develop players.

Duke. "Coach K," he said. "That's all you've got to say about Duke: Coach K."

Louisville. "I'm a family guy. Louisville is kind of like a family school."

Kentucky. A richly rewarding experience for Noel and many other players.

The mention of Noel prompted Okonoboh to remark, "That's my brother."

Yes, he said, Noel speaks highly of his season as a Kentucky player. "All the time," Okonoboh said. "He loves it."

But when asked how much influence Noel might wield in his college decision, Okonoboh smiled and said, "He doesn't have a lot of influence."

Okonoboh was there at the moment when Noel decided to cut his hair in his trademark high-top fade style. Prep school teammates, they were fans of the television show Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Will Smith sported a high-top fade.

"It wasn't my idea," Okonoboh said. "It was both our ideas. I mentioned it. He was a little reluctant."

Unbeknownst to him, Noel had gained a trademark style. Okonoboh no longer has a high-top fade.

"A little bit because I was tired of it," he said. "A little bit because he's known for it. I've got to get a new look."Okonoboh described his basketball style as different from Noel's. The former UK player is a center, he said. He is a forward.

He's recently attended skills camps sponsored by Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James. The latter inspired him to continue to work to improve.

"LeBron James was saying how he's in the gym every day working out, working hard," he said. "At this age, I look at it as I'm nowhere near LeBron. So I've got to (improve)."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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