Syracuse reserve center Chinoso Obokoh surprised everyone, including his teammates, in Tuesday evening’s 82-60 win over Montana State.
Midway through the second half, Obokoh caught the ball near the foul line and drove left into the lane before unfurling a graceful spin, tantalizing the crowd and energizing his teammates. He missed the layup, but the point was made: Obokoh’s game is ever improving and expanding.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen that before at all,” Syracuse freshman Frank Howard said. “I’m glad he connected with it.”
Obokoh put up a career-high 11 points, surpassing his career total points in 12 minutes of playing time. He finished 5 for 7 from the field, including a dismal 1-5 from the stripe. Still, he nabbed six total rebounds and picked up four fouls in a performance that showcased the energy he’s capable of bringing to the team.
Syracuse interim coach Mike Hopkins has expanded the role of several of his players while head coach Jim Boeheim serves a nine-game suspension, Obokoh included. Hopkins said that along with center DaJuan Coleman, Obokoh “on the defensive end [is] going to be huge for us.”
Obokoh—nicknamed “Chino”—barely seems to notice the difference. When asked what was going though his mind with increased playing time he answered, “Nothing.”
Perhaps that’s because Obokoh has put in effort in practice and has honed his understanding of his defensive assignments in SU’s vaunted 2-3 zone. Obokoh’s inspiration comes from former center Baye Moussa Keita (2010-2014) for his defensive game.
“He’s a good defensive player, you know,” Obokoh said. “I was trying to watch the way he moves on the floor because he was everywhere. He’s incredible.”
Obokoh is still a bit green and his feet haven’t quite caught up to Keita’s, but he shows confidence. He’ll need that confidence to show his abilities during the next several games, while he’s getting playing time. Boeheim keeps a much tighter rotation, and Obokoh will have to earn his chance on the floor.
Obokoh’s expanded offensive repertoire may earn him more minutes, as well.
He was aggressive around the rim, throwing down vicious slams and picking up three fouls on his drives. He could’ve ended up with 13 points had he finished on his spin move, something he says he’s been working on in practice.
“I’ve got a couple of moves that people don’t know that I can do,” Obokoh said.
One of the qualities about Obokoh that is immediately apparent is his focus. He repeatedly said he wasn’t thinking about anything differently tonight, and didn’t prepare any more than he has for any other game.
His teammates recognize his focus, shown in how hard he works in practice. He’s also remained focused in the classroom, reporting that he’s doing “great” in school while reminding fans that he’s also getting a degree from his time at Syracuse. He weighs these strengths against his limited playing time, again showing an almost zen-like rationality.
“If you think about it too much, it’s going to hold you down,” Obokoh said.
Most importantly, he remembers that basketball is supposed to bring happiness.
Said Obokoh: “Always, I try to go to practice and have fun.”