An elite athlete who excelled in tennis during earlier school years in Maidenhead, England (a suburb of London), James Okonkwo quickly gravitated toward basketball once he was exposed to the sport. His improvement was so rapid that he begin gathering interest from a number of colleges in the U.S. after coming to West Virginia last August to play for Justin Dempsey’s Beckley Prep IJN WV team, leading to an scholarship offer from WVU.
That, in turn, became a commitment on Thursday afternoon, as Okonkwo pledged to join West Virginia’s class of 2023.
— James Okonkwo (@JamesOkonkwo13) June 24, 2021
An elite athlete who capitalizes on his great energy, ability to run the floor and bouncy hops, Okonkwo is already an excellent shot blocker and a solid rebounder with excellent reach. While his offensive game is still developing, he shows the building blocks to be able to score from the 3-point line to the paint, and already flashes the ability to score over either shoulder at the rim.
“He has a chance to be one of the best players I’ve ever been involved with,” said Justin Dempsey, who has seen numerous players in his years in coaching at prep schools, most recently at the IJN Beckley program. “He’s a different type of athlete. He’s great physically, but he picks up on things very quickly. You see him working on something, he can go out and execute them.”
“I liked how genuine everyone was from the coaches to the players,” Okonkwo said of the reasons he chose the Mountaineer program. “The culture of the program, and the facilities, everything I saw when I was able to visit after they opened up, their focus is on developing and getting better. That’s what I am all about too.”
Dempsey has seen that attitude play out in person, even when COVID and an injury limited his participation this past season.
“He had a broken finger and we only played 12 games, and he played in just a few of those. Even with that, his progression and transition to the American game has been quicker than anybody else’s,” Dempsey observed. “I think a lot of that has to do with his coachability. He’s hungry to learn and he will do exactly what you want him to do. He’s not consumed by attention. He probably made the decision a week or so ago, and told some other teams that he was already committed. His mindset is on becoming the best player he can be, and becoming a professional.”
Okonkwo, who had an offer from Rutgers and figured to attract many more before shutting down his recruitment, will play with the All-Ohio Red team on the summer circuit this year, including in the prestigious Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, Georgia, which runs from July 20-25.