Purdue's recruiting successes in the city of Richmond will hopefully pay off with this 2015 point guard.
This week's fourth recruiting profile is another 2015 player that I saw late last season when he was only a freshman. I was assigned to cover a late season game at Richmond between the hometown Red Devils and my beloved Wildkats. The winner would have a chance at sharing the NCC title if Muncie Central had lost, and the season before they played a memorable game at Kokomo where the Kats honored the 50th anniversary of the 1961 State Champion before winning the NCC in a winner-take-all game.
So there was some history there, and freshman point guard Joel Okafor played extremely well for a young man playing in a big game as a freshman. There was a lot of Division I talent on the floor that night. D.J. Balentine for Kokomo is now at Evansville with teammates LaBradford Sebree, Eric Bowen, and Tayler Persons all drawing interest as 2013 and 2014 recruits. Bola Olaniyan is playing at Southern Illinois this season and he had 27 points and 18 rebounds in a monster effort for Richmond.
A big reason Olaniyan had such a good night was Okafor, who could end up being the best of them all. The freshman had nine points, three rebounds, seven assists, and three steals as Richmond won a great game 67-63 in overtime.
Okafor is a 5'10" point guard that is quickly rising. The Indiana Recruiting Guide has him as the No. 7 2015 prospect in the state with offers from Wright State, Middle Tennessee State, and Western Michigan. Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, and Xavier are starting to sniff around, however. Here is what the guide has to say about him:
Joel makes some plays that 15 year olds just are not supposed to make. He was the starting point guard for the Red Devils since day one and had a very good freshman season which carried into this summer. He is extremely explosive with the ball in his hands, can get around just about any defender in the state off the dribble. Very strong for his age, great leaping ability as well. Not a shooting threat at this point, but is great at attacking the rim.
Richmond has not won a sectional since 1996, but was 21-4 last year after losing to Kellen Dunham and Pendleton Heights in the section final 66-56. The other three losses were to very good teams in North Central, Columbus North, and Muncie Central. So far they are 3-1 this year with a loss at North Central 79-54.
A couple of things stand out from Okafor's game log from the 2011-12 season and so far this season. He is not primarily a score-first point guard. Last year he had double-digit assists three times. He averaged 6.5 assists for the season but was only in double figures for 8 of 25 games. He also was not afraid to rebound, getting five or more rebounds nine times. He was 6 of 21 from three-point range, so shooting is definitely something he can work on.
This season his scoring is up to 11 points per game but assist are down to 2.5. He might be doing more out of necessity, however. A free throw percentage of 63.6% is actually an improvement over 53.1% last year. This shows that he is at least growing some and improving his game. To me, the shooting can come later because much of being a good passing point guard is innate. Those skills are there, so the rest can start following.
Purdue has had good luck recruiting Richmond in the past with Chad and Woody Austin being two of the better players in school history. If he does blow up, however, Ohio State is probably closer to home than West Lafayette.
By the time Okafor would get here we could be looking for a new point guard. Ronnie Johnson will be a senior in his freshman year and Bryson Scott a junior. He could be a valuable backup on a 2015-16 team loaded with upper class experience that can ease his transition to the college game. Eight members of next season's team could still be around then, so if they develop as we hope Okafor would be walking into a very good team.
I also like that he has been a starter for Richmond from day 1. It shows he has maturity to handle a team at the most important position on the floor. This is a very good player that will only get better, so I hope we are on him early.