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.
The immediate futures of several Big East schools could be decided by a pair of late-signing seniors from Our Savior New American High School in Centereach, N.Y.
Chris Obekpa, a 6-foot-9 shot-blocking center, and Felix Balamou, a 6-2 wing, both took pivotal weekend trips to Big East schools.
Balamou took a weekend official visit to St. John’s that included viewing practice Friday and taking a trip to Madison Square Garden Saturday for the Johnnies’ 66-63 victory over UCLA.
“Felix enjoyed watching St John’s at Madision Square Garden in their win over UCLA,” Our Savior assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch told SNY.tv.
“He liked the way the team played with only six players against a historic program like UCLA. He enjoyed his time with the players and the coaching staff. He got a chance to see some different spots in NYC that he has not been to before.”
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin, who is supervising recruiting and not coaching while recovering from prostate cancer surgery, cannot comment on prospective student-athletes but has said he wants to sign five or six players this spring.
“Right now, I’m putting a lot of energy into recruiting and that’s the most effective way for me to lead the program forward and add value,” Lavin said Saturday. “We’re burning the fuel on the road and determined to sign another stellar class here in 2012.”
Obekpa is another player St. John’s is involved with, and he took a double-dip of a trip Saturday with Jaklitsch to see both UConn’s loss to Marquette and Providence fall to Georgetown.
He will also visit Cincinnati Wednesday-Friday, including the Louisville game Thursday.
UConn is heavily courting Obekpa and had been trying to get him on campus for some time.
“On Saturday we took a drive up to UConn to watch them play vs Marquette at the XL Center in Hartford,” Jaklitsch said. “After the game we drove over to campus to take a tour and look at their facilities with Coach Kevin Ollie and Glen Miller. We had been trying to get up there for quite some time but were not able to find dates that worked out. UConn is building a top notch, state-of-the-art practice facility which will house their men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“They already have one of the best football practice facilties in the country and we toured that. They explained to us how the basketball facility would have a lot of the same features as the football facility but how they would make some improvements to the basketball one.
“It was very impressive from the weight room, to the video room, to the player lounges and cafeteria. We also sat down with Coach Ollie and Miller and discussed how he would fit into the UConn system, how their program works, and talked about the tradition of UConn basketball from their NBA players to all the different championships they have won – Big East and NCAA. It was a great visit, Chris really enjoyed it.”
From there it was off to Providence, which has Ricky Ledo, Josh Fortune and Kris Dunn signed and is also involved with 2012 shot-blocking superstar Nerlens Noel, who took his weekend official to Kentucky.
“After we left UConn we took about an hour drive over to the Providence-Georgetown game,” Jaklitsch said. “We got a chance to see them play in person after watching them on TV a few times. The fan support was really amazing for their team. They are struggling this year but the place was sold out and the fans supported them to the final buzzer.
“We had already been to Providence in the fall so we saw the Dunkin Donuts center but now this time the place was packed. After the game we had the opportunity to speak with Coach [Ed] Cooley and his staff. They expressed again how much they want Chris and how much they need him. They talked about the opportunity that was available for him if he decides to attend Providence College.”
In the meantime, both players want to close out their season strong.
“We have about four regular season games left before we start our postseason tournaments,” Jaklitsch said. “We are currently 18-2 and ranked nationally in a few polls. We are hoping to get selected for the ESPN NHSI in the end of March.
“We have to win some more games in order to do that, though. It would be a great honor for our team and school to be selected to go. Our kids are all working very hard to get there.”
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.