Obekpa, Oblockpa, the game changer, the defensive energizer

USA TODAY Sports

In his first 10 games, Chris Obekpa has become a serious threat down low for St. John's; defensively that is.

Saturday night's 58-47 win over Fordham provided Madison Square Garden with a first look at exactly what Chris Obekpa is able to do, and do well; block shots.

The 6-9 freshman forward recorded a school record (breaking his former record) with 11 blocked shots in 31 minutes of play. When guards penetrate the paint and when forwards try to work the low post, they have to constantly know where Obekpa is... but his ability to swoop in from behind, from the side, from all positions makes that very difficult.

Obekpa wasn't the highest ranked player in the nation (top-75), but head coach Steve Lavin chased after him to change the look of his defense.

"Chris is one of the more unique talents I have recruited in my coaching career. His stellar shot blocking abilities are as exceptional as any I've seen at this particular stage of a player's development," said Lavin when Obekpa committed to the program.

Last night his stellar shot blocking was brought to the world's most famous arena. His frame might not be the biggest and it might not impose a low-block threat at first look but looks can be deceiving.

In fact, his smaller frame is more of an advantage rather than a disadvantage; it might help keep him out of foul trouble. Obekpa only averages three personal fouls per game - for amount of shots he attempts to block, it looks fantastic. His smaller frame allows for him to have more hangtime which in turn helps him adjust his body in the air to block the ball and not crash into his opponent.

"I have never really seen anyone quite like Chris because he doesn’t have the 7’1, Tyson Chandler-like size," said Lavin after Saturday's win. "The combination of his basketball intellect and his length and timing is what separates him from anyone that I’ve seen."

Fellow freshman JaKarr Sampson (16 points, 10 rebounds) said that what he does best, dunking the ball, is equivalent to way Obekpa blocks shots; it helps get the team going.

"When Chris blocks a shot it gets us all energized, it's like a dunk on defense," Sampson said. "It makes us want to play defense and be there with him defensively."

Obekpa moved into 3rd in the nation averaging 4.9 blocks per game. Only the Kansas big man Jeff Withey (5.6 blocks/ game) and Jordan Bachynski of Arizona State (5.5 b/g) rank ahead of Obekpa.

Though his defensive prowl is one worth noting, it's also worth noting that Obekpa isn't yet a star to NBA personnel.

"I don't think he's on many people's radar yet," Jonathan Givony, of DraftExpress.com, told Adam Zagoria. "He'll need to show himself in the Big East. But what he's doing is interesting."

While he might be listed at 6-9. Obekpa is more 6-7 playing like he's 7-5. When you think Obekpa, think Pittsburgh grad and San Antonio Spur forward DeJuan Blair - not so big but plays large on defense.

Offensively, he still needs work.

Obekpa looked good stroking the ball from the field. He went 3-6 scoring for 7 points in total. On the season he is shooting 44.7% from the field, hitting what Lavin calls "dagger" shots a few times that helped St. John's earn victories.

"I think three games now in crunch time he has hit that mid range jumper to put a real dagger in the opponent and I am glad he has had the confidence to take that as well," said Lavin. The only real trouble Obekpa has is his free throw shooting.

He went into Saturday shooting 27% from the charity stripe and only hit 1 of 6 shots in the game. While his defense is important, in late stretches of the game his free throw ability might put Lavin in a sticky situation. Teams could adapt a "Hack-a-Obekpa" and it could put the team in jepoardy when it comes to a tight game.

Nonetheless, Obekpa has raised many eyebrows in his first 10 games this year. While he might still be adjusting to the college game, he is providing something St. John's hasn't had maybe in forever; a real low post threat defensively.

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