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April 05, 2004

Ode To Emeka

by Nick Infante, Clips Editor

FROM THE CHRONIC STRIFE AND CHAOS OF AFRICA’S LARGEST COUNTRY comes an improbable and inspirational story of the American dream.

Pius Okafor, father of UConn’s Emeka, grew up in war-torn Nigeria. Like many an appreciative immigrant before him, Pius has doggedly instilled in his son Emeka an appreciation for the unique opportunity and freedom that America offers.

Emeka has clearly taken that message to heart. And he ran with it.

These days it sounds trite to extol the ideals of hard work, perseverance and scholarly pursuits. However, we have witnessed how adherence to these basic principles has made a remarkable success of Emeka Okefor.

And, despite the glare and the media attention, Okafor has, by all accounts, retained a commendable humility.

He’s smart. He’s strong. He’s gifted. He’s talented. He has great teeth (and a Hollywood smile that must make his dentist proud).

And furthermore, every female I’ve spoken to has informed me that he’s “cute.” Oddly, they use the descriptor “cute,” but not “handsome.”

In the paint he imparts an especially intimidating defensive obstacle. He blocks plenty of shots, but one statistic not tracked is the number of shots that Okafor has caused to be altered. That statistic, if tracked, would probably be double or triple his blocked shot count.

Okafor is an amazing amalgam of positive traits of many of the great big men who have preceded him. The physicality of Wilt Champerlain. The heart of Willis Reed. The enthusiasm of Bill Walton. The slickness of Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The scientific approach of Bill Russell. The definitive presence of Nate Thurmond. The oppressive wingspan of Manute Bol (remember him?). The blue collar hustle of Dave Cowens. The athleticism of Akeem Olejawon. The pretty boy presence of Ralph Sampson.

As big and strong as he is, Emeka will have some adjusting to do in the NBA. No longer can he be the dominant man in the paint. Not when he’ll be giving away 4 inches and 80 pounds to Shaquille O’Neal and 9—NINE!—inches to Yao Ming.

Much has been made of Okafor’s scholastic academic prowess. And rightly so. He’ll be graduating in three years with a 3.8 GPA. And there have been no gut courses or Harrick multiple choice exams as part of his transcript.

A generation ago there was an undersized, super-hustling Bill Bradley, who carried his Princeton team to greatness. He was intelligent, well-spoken and widely admired. Bradley went on to become a US Senator. That could well be a future for Okafor.

Senator Okafor, that has a nice ring to it.

Editor Infante, a UConn graduate, has been in his glory these past couple of weeks. He hopes to be writing a similar Ode To Taurasi tomorrow.