Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Alex Oriakhi played a critical role in UConn’s runs to Big East and NCAA championships last season.
The 6-foot-9 Oriakhi averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds in 29.1 minutes last year when UConn won 11 straight postseason games for their third national championship.
As a junior, however, Oriakhi — a team co-captain along with sophomore guard Shabazz Napier — doesn’t look like the same person. He’s averaging 6.6 points and 4.9 boards in just 19.4 minutes.
“Yeah, I definitely don’t feel like I’m the player [as last year], but then again I don’t feel I’m getting the same minutes,” Oriakhi told SNY.tv exclusively after his team lost 67-60 at Rutgers.
“I guess that’s me, I have to adjust to that, but there’s not much you can do. It is frustrating, though.”
During UConn’s lost week in the Garden State, Oriakhi tallied just two points and zero rebounds in 19 minutes of Tuesday’s 75-63 loss at Seton Hall.
Against Rutgers, Oriakhi posted six points and three rebounds in just 15 minutes.
“I don’t know, I got to look in the mirror and figure it out but I’m not sure,” Oriakhi said when asked for an explanation of his overall play.
Oriakhi’s role has obviously changed with the addition of 6-foot-11 freshman Andre Drummond, who told SNY.tv he plans to return for his sophomore season instead of going to the NBA. (For now, anyway.)
Asked how much his role has changed with the addition of Drummond, Oriakhi said, “Oh, it’s changed dramatically, as you can see. Obviously, I’m not able to do the same things I did last year so I just gotta adjust.”
Making his return to the bench after a three-game NCAA-mandated suspension, UConn coach Jim Calhoun used the term “identity crisis” to describe his team and didn’t hesitate to say it lacked leadership.
“There’s not a lack of it, there’s none,” Calhoun said.
Surprisingly, Calhoun said he didn’t expect Oriakhi, a co-captain, to provide any, either.
“I don’t think Alex is gonna be able to provide leadership from the five spot, I don’t really,” Calhoun said. “I just don’t think that happens on most teams. Emeka Okafor, as great as he was, and some of the great centers have never been, quote, leaders on the team.”
Asked if he should be providing more leadership, Oriakhi said, “That could come from me but then again I think it could come from anybody. A lot of guys are sophomores on the team or juniors and three freshmen, so guys have been through it so I feel anybody could be a leader if they want to be.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.