For some people, certain birthdays are more special than others. Obinna Oleka will probably remember today's birthday as being different than any he's had before. That's because the State College of Florida (Bradenton, Florida) forward made his college choice today when he committed to the Texas Longhorns.
"Today is his birthday and he wanted to make his decision today," said Lyndon DeBellotte, who runs Kids First Basketball Inc., and has worked with Oleka throughout recent years. "He called me at 7:30 this morning, I wished him happy birthday and he said 'Go Horns."
It was pretty clear that the Longhorns were targeting a player like Oleka - tall, very athletic, and can really run. They focused on Oleka, got him on campus in late October for an official visit, and were able to secure a commitment quickly thereafter.
"He said it was a hard decision, but he's comfortable with coach (Rick) Barnes and Rob Lanier," DeBellotte said. "He likes the whole Texas family and the Texas environment. He's a very shy kid. It came down to like five schools - Texas, Oregon State, Gonzaga, Old Dominion and Southern Miss. A couple others tried to jump in at the end too."
The 6-8, 230-pound forward is classified as a sophomore at State College of Florida for its upcoming season. Originally from Washington D.C., the newest UT commitment played AAU for the DC Assault for a year and then mostly for Kids First under DeBellotte before attending Florida Christian Institute his final year in high school where he averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds per game.
"He brings a tenacity on both ends, especially on the rebounding," DeBellotte stated about Oleka. "He's very physical player, loves to compete, and he's a team player first and foremost. He's 6-8, 230, can bring it down court, can shoot it from 3, and can pass. He's a combination 3-4."
Once Oleka did some research and visited Texas, he knew that's where he felt comfortable. Other schools continued to pursue the athletic forward, and tried to get him to visit. However, the newest UT commitment knew Texas was where he wanted to be.
"I told him to do his homework on the schools with their academics and history of graduating players," said DeBellotte. "He's a shy kid, but he did his homework and felt comfortable at Texas. He visited Old Dominion and Southern Miss and two others wanted him to take a visit, but he wanted to focus on his school work and be done with it. He said 'I made my decision, I'm sticking with my decision, I'm glad everything is over.' A lot of other schools are getting wind of him. In my opinion, and I may be biased, he's the best player in JUCO."
DeBellotte has thought for a long time that Oleka had a chance to be special. Eventually, Oleka saw it too.
"He's a great kid, a great kid," said one of Oleka's coaches. "I've been coaching him since he was 12. I saw something in him that he didn't even see in himself until two or three years ago. Then people started taking notice."
People did start taking notice, including the Texas basketball staff.
Oleka is the second commitment for the 2014 class, and joins St. Louis standout wing Jordan Barnett. According to DeBellotte, Oleka will be enrolling at Texas in July.