St. John’s transfer Chris Obekpa has committed to UNLV. He announced the news on Instagram, and a source confirmed to NBCSports.com that this was, in fact, a commitment:
Obekpa is one of the nation’s premier shot-blockers, averaging 3.1 blocks to go along with 7.0 boards as a junior with the Johnnies. He left the program in June, and the cause was, reportedly, a rift between Obekpa and the new coaching staff. The player did not like the stricter rules the new regime was implementing.
The 6-foot-9 native of Nigeria will have to sit the 2015-16 season and will have one season of eligibility remaining in 2016-17.
After playing three seasons at St. John’s, center Chris Obekpa made the decision last month to transfer for his final season of eligibility. A solid contributor on the defensive end of the floor, Obekpa had a tumultuous junior season which ended with his being declared ineligible for the NCAA tournament after reportedly failing a drug test.
Thursday it was reported by CBSSports.com that the 6-foot-10 big man will visit Minnesota this weekend, with the Golden Gophers being one of four schools he’s considering. Minnesota doesn’t lack for front court options who would have eligibility remaining in 2016-17, with Joey King being their lone senior, but Obekpa would add more depth (and defensive ability) to that group.
According to SNY.tv, Alabama, Arizona State and NC State are also being considered by Obekpa. Each of those schools has at least one scholarship remaining, with the Wolfpack having three available scholarships in the aftermath of Kyle Washington’s transfer to Cincinnati and Trevor Lacey’s decision to turn pro.
Regardless of where Obekpa lands he’ll have to sit out the 2015-16 season, and that could ultimately benefit him on the offensive end of the floor. While he was a player teams had to account for as a defender while at St. John’s, the offensive skill set remained a work in progress throughout his time in Queens.
The first season of the Chris Mullin era at St. John’s will be an interesting one, not only due to the fact that a program legend is returning to campus for his first head coaching job but also because of how much was lost from last year’s NCAA tournament team. Three of their top four scorers ran out of eligibility and the fourth, point guard Rysheed Jordan, had academic issues that eventually led to him pursuing professional basketball.
Wednesday afternoon St. John’s announced that another player from last season’s team will be leaving the program. Center Chris Obekpa, a solid defender who struggled to become a consistent option on the offensive end of the floor, will transfer.
Obekpa, who averaged 5.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game last season, will have one season left to play after sitting out the 2015-15 campaign at whichever program his chooses.
“It was a great three years of growing here at St. John’s. I am forever grateful for the friends and family I have met during my time here,” Obekpa said in the release. “Much gratitude goes out to my coaches, teammates, professors and administrators for all of their love and support over the past three years.”
Obekpa’s request to be released from his scholarship last spring was granted by then-head coach Steve Lavin, with the Our Savior New American (Centereach, New York) product ultimately deciding to return to St. John’s for his junior season. The departure of the 6-foot-10 center means that St. John’s will have to account for the loss of its top six scorers from 2014-15.
In the interior the Red Storm return Amir Alibegovic and Christian Jones, with additions Yankuba Sims and Darien Williams (junior college transfer) joining the rotation. Tennessee transfer Tariq Owens will have to sit out the 2015-16 season, meaning that a team that didn’t have much depth to begin with is in an even tougher situation unless they can find a late addition or two this summer.
Chris Mullin wasted little time since accepting the head coaching position at his alma mater. The new St. John’s coach has offered several local recruits and hired a key assistant coach in Matt Abdelmassih. On Monday night, during the national championship game, it was reported that Mullin will retain one of his key returners.
Chris Obekpa, the shotblocking junior, will reportedly stay at St. John’s for his senior season, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. Obekpa, the only big man on the St. John’s roster last season, was suspended for two weeks on March 15, hours before Selection Sunday.
Following a season-ending loss to San Diego State in the Round of 64, Steve Lavin said to reporters, “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he doesn’t return to St. John’s.” Six days later, Lavin and St. John’s agreed to part ways after five seasons.
Obekpa averaged 5.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. The 6-foot-10 Obekpa was one of two players Mullin was looking to retain. The other being sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan, who finished second on the team in scoring. According to a report on Monday night from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Jordan is also leaning toward returning to St. John’s as well.
Even if Jordan rejoins Obekpa and the Johnnies, Mullin will still have his work cut out for him, as no other returner averaged more than 9.0 minutes per game last season, and Brandon Sampson, the program’s top commit, reopened his recruitment on Lavin left.
After initially being granted a release to transfer from St. John’s on April 3rd, sophomore center Chris Obekpa has had a change of heart and the school announced on Friday that the 6-foot-9 big man will return for his junior season.
“Chris approached me last week to communicate his change of heart and wishes to stay at St. John’s. After good dialogue we are pleased to announce Chris will continue his career as a student-athlete with the Red Storm,” head coach Steve Lavin said in the release.
Obekpa returning is huge news for St. John’s as they get one of the nation’s elite shot blockers back to man the interior. The sophomore has led the Big East in blocked shots for two consecutive seasons and was 11th nationally in blocks at 2.9 rejections a game last season. As a freshman, Obekpa led the nation with 4.03 blocks per game.
“I’ve had good conversations with Coach Lavin over the past week. After giving consideration to transferring it’s become clear that it makes the most sense to continue my career as a student-athlete at St. John’s,” Obekpa said in the release. “I will do whatever is necessary to win back the trust of my coaches, teammates and our fans. My brothers and I have unfinished business and I am determined to help St. John’s continue the climb up the mountain.”
Obekpa averaged 3.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore and his return is huge for the Red Storm because they’ve already lost JaKarr Sampson to the 2014 NBA Draft and Max Hooper transferred to Oakland.
A week ago, St. John’s was with only seven scholarship players after JaKarr Sampson declared for the NBA draft while and both Max Hooper and Chris Obekpa received their releases from the school.
On Sunday night, it was reported that Hooper would transfer to Oakland. However, a separate report from Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News suggested that Obekpa would likely end up back in a Red Storm uniform for the 2014-2015 season.
“Every day that Obekpa hasn’t transferred leads me to believe that he’s going to stay with St. John’s,” a source told Rubin. “I don’t know if the problem is sitting out a season, getting away from New York or (something) else.”
The 6-foot-9 sophomore instantly became a target for schools such as Baylor, Oregon and UCLA. Obekpa averaged 3.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game in his sophomore season.
An hour after the article was published, Obekpa sent this tweet to St. John’s teammate Phil Greene:
Draw your own conclusions as to what that means, but the sense around the program is that Obekpa may very well be back with the Johnnies for a junior season.