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Former Arizona State Sun Devil made an immediate impact with his new team
In planning for future promotional photo shoots, the St. John’s Edge might very well be in the market for a replica light sabre and a cowled robe.
“Just called me Obi. Like Kenobi. That’s why it’s ‘1.’ Like Obi-One,” said a smiling Obinna Oleka, pointing to the number on the shorts of his Edge uniform.
The 25-year-old Oleka may not possess the power of a Jedi warrior, but what the big man from the District of Columbia has brought to the Edge has been welcome, helping St. John’s to back-to-back weekend victories over the Island Storm and extending the team’s winning streak to three games after a faltering 1-5 start to the National Basketball League of Canada season.
The Edge are looking to get back to .500 as they take on the Sudbury Five tonight (7 p.m.) at Mile One Centre and if they keep getting play like they did from the 6-8, 225-pound Oleka in his initial outings, that cause should get a boost,
Oleka had 12 points in each game against the Island squad and topped his team in rebounding in each contest, with 11 and seven boards, respectively.
All this while playing off-the-bench minutes with teammates he hardly knew.
“He was fantastic,” said Edge coach Doug Plumb after Sunday’s win over the Storm at Mile One. “He’s long. He’s athletic — I mean he was sinking fadeway jumpers from the post out there today — and he’s a got a great attitude. We’re happy to have him.”
Oleka and former NBA star Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis,’ who also made his Edge debut over the weekend, suddenly bring some formidable size and inside presence to a team that had been lacking it.
Starter Keith Wright has been solid in the middle and 7-2 Satnam Singh is imposing when he’s on the floor, but Singh has seen limited court time.
“Early on, teams were taking advantage of us … because we had just one big out there,” said Plumb. “We had to position our offensive sets for our guards to play off that one guy all the time.
“Now that we’ve got these extra (big) bodies, the offence should be a little easier. The other teams won’t be able to switch on us.
“Once we get Obi and Glen properly acclimated, it will give us a different look.”
By the way, that part about Oleka being on a team full of strangers is not quite correct. He does know St. John’s guard Jarryn Skeete well. They both shared the same college coach in Bobby Hurley — Skeete at Buffalo and Oleka at Arizona State. After Hurley moved to the desert, Skeete began spending a lot of his off-seasons there and became acquainted with the man who now is his pro teammate in Newfoundland.
“When (my agent) told me there was a team in Canada interested in me, I was like “I wonder if that could be Skeete’s team’ and sure enough, it was,” said Oleka. “Having him here has been good. It had me halfway comfortable as soon as I got here.”
Oleka had two solid seasons at Arizona State after a life-changing call from Hurley, the former Duke star and NBA guard. He was Hurley’s first recruit after taking over the Sun Devils program … and a bit of a surprise one.
Oleka had originally committed to the University of Texas and spent time at junior college in Florida, but left that school and saw his commitment to Texas go by the wayside as well. Time to satisfy NCAA transfer rules and to get his academics in order at another JC, this one in Maryland, meant it was nearly two years before Arizona State offered him a scholarship.
“Definitely. For sure,” answered Oleka if he felt the call from Hurley was life-changing.
He made the most of his two years of eligibility with the Sun Devils, averaging 11 points and more than eight rebounds per game, racking up a lot of double-doubles on the way.
And it wasn’t just there that he succeeded. That earlier struggle with academics got turned around, too. At Arizona State, he made the student-athletes honour roll, getting dubbed a Scholar Baller.
After graduating, he spent part of last season playing in Italy, but was back home in Washington looking for a place to play when the Edge came calling.
The connection with Skeete played a part, but so did Kyle Julius, who had been head coach of the NBLC’s London Lightning when Plumb was an assistant there. Oleka’s agent had checked in with Julius, now running a team in Vietnam, and Julius relayed Oleka’s availability and his interest in playing to Plumb.
Eventually, the connections helped bring Oleka to St. John’s with his inside skills, his ready-made nickname and a simple approach to the game … and to life.
“Work hard and keep pushing forward,” he said.
Forward Chadrack Lufile, who was let go by the Edge just just before they added Davis to the roster, has signed on with the Halifax Hurricanes, In doing so, Lufile’s become a teammate iof his brother Meshack, also a Hurrivcanes forward … Tonight and Wednesday's games (also 7 p.m.) at Mile One are the first between St. John's and Sudbury, and the last home contests for the Edge before the New Year. After this week, the Edge don't play again until Dec. 29, when they begin what will be a six-game road trip through the Maritimes ... Former Edge cente/forward Grandy Glaze, now playing for expansion Sudbury (7-3), has been named the NBLC’s Canadian of the week. Glaze is easily the top rebounder in the league, with a 12.8 per game average. He’s also third on the Five in scoring, with a 13.9 ppg average … The Five are led in scoring by point guard Braylon Rawson, whose 25.3 ppg average also happens to be best in the entire league … If you’re wondering about the Sudbury nickname, there’s a triple entendre involved. It refers to the last number of the local area code (705), the five men on the court for a basketball team and the five-cent piece represented by the Big Nickel, the replica of the coin that’s one of the chief symbols of the northern Ontario city …