“He told me, 'It's no joke up there,'” Okonoboh said. “It's nothing compared to high school. It's working out every day — three times a day, sometimes two.”
Okonoboh and Vonleh were travel ball teammates last year for Mass Rivals. That was when Vonleh was a top-10 prospect and Okonoboh was building his way to elite recruit status.
Vonleh is now fully immersed in IU's summer training program, and doing well enough to earn praise from IU coaches on his work ethic and attitude. Vonleh has passed on his experience to Okonoboh, a 6-9, 220 pound Massachusetts standout who has emerged as a shot-blocking force of nature. He has a scholarship offer from Indiana and at least a dozen other powerhouse programs.
“You think you can go to college and have a fun time,” Okonoboh said, “and you will have a fun time, and you might think it will be just walk through things. No. You have to work for it. You have to be ready.”
Okonoboh is building toward ready, and it starts with his name. His family is from Nigeria. Shortly after his parents arrived in Boston, his father, Sylvester, found a job as a cab driver. He was shot in the chest during an argument over the fare. The bullet nicked his heart. Somehow he survived. When his son was born the next week, Sylvester had a fitting name.
“He wasn't supposed to live,” Okonoboh said. “He named me Goodluck because he felt lucky to become a father.”
It's not luck that has Okonoboh ranked No. 32 nationally by Rivals.com in the Class of 2014, No. 19 by ESPN.com. He can dominate, as the 16-point, 12-rebound, 10-block effort he unleashed in one adidas Invitational game showed.
“Hearing from Noah shows me in a year I'll be in college, so I have to prepare now,” he said. “Time goes by fast, especially for me because I'm always doing things, always playing basketball. You've got to live for the moment and work hard every day. If you do, hopefully when you get (to college), you'll be ready.”
Okonoboh works to show he has offense with his defensive game. He has a mid-range jumper, something he lacked last summer. He can face the basket and score.
“He didn't have any of that last year,” Mass Rivals coach Vin Pastore said. “That was the knock on him, that he didn't have any offense.”
He has it now, and high-profile coaches have noticed. IU's Tom Crean, Louisville's Rick Pitino, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Ohio State's Thad Matta, West Virginia's Bob Huggins, plus Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua, were among the coaches who watched him during this week's event in Indianapolis.
Okonoboh said he isn't close to cutting down his list of schools, and has no desire to rush a decision.
“Everybody is my favorite,” he said.
“I could decide in the fall, or maybe the spring. I'll talk with my family toward the end of the summer and see what I want to do.”
What is he looking for in a school and a program?
“When I go on my visits, I'll see how the players play every day and how the coaches work with the players from a development standpoint because that's the key,” he said. “If you want to play at the next level, you've got to develop.”
Okonoboh's grueling schedule — he participated at the Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James academies (Chicago and Las Vegas) before arriving in Indianapolis — is part of that development.
“It's draining, but you've got to play through it. It's basketball.”
So he continues to work, push and dream.
“This is a chance to play against good players, showcase my hard work and show I'm one of the top players in the country.”