The Arizona State Sun Devils Sun Devils crushed the Kennesaw State Owls on the boards Wednesday night, outrebounding the Owls 53-24 behind shooting guard Gerry Blakes' 12 snatches off the glass.
However, it was a player that had been a shadow of himself in the previous two games that revved the engine for ASU offensively.
Junior-college transfer Obinna Oleka put up 19 points, knocked down a three, dished out an assist and reigned in six rebounds, all while only committing a single foul.
Oleka struggled in the season opener against Sacramento State, seeing only six minutes where he went 0-for-3 from the field, 0-2 from the line and turned the ball over. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward saw one more minute against Belmont where he was 0-for-1 in both categories and committed another turnover.
"With 'Obi' it was like he's trying to remember what we're doing on offense, where he needs to be on the floor and a whole new system on how to play defense and so he was thinking a lot and not reacting as much," ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. "My message to him was, 'In two weeks you're not going to remember this week. Let's put behind us what happened on Friday and what happened on Monday and you're too talented of a guy not to have a chance to be real productive.' I'm glad that he will hopefully get some confidence out of this."
Oleka had to sit out his sophomore year of junior college to focus on his grades, and was ineligible the rest of the year when he transferred, causing him to miss two years of basketball.
Wednesday, Oleka said, was the first time he was able to get back to the way he used to play after two of his most frustrating games on a stage as big as Arizona State.
"I wanted to cry (after the first two games) man," Oleka said. "I knew what I could do on the court, I just didn't know why I wasn't doing it. It was my first time in two years playing basketball. The first two games, I was turning the ball over, I was too anxious, fouling and not playing well. But the third game I feel like I've calmed down a little bit."
Oleka said his confidence is now back where it needs to be in order to play a big part in Hurley's offense, one where Hurley envisions multiple players in double figures. Alongside Blakes and center Eric Jacobsen, Oleka has an opportunity to be a part of an offense that carries a variety of weapons that can combine to close out teams.
"Obi’s a big time player," Blakes said. "I’m glad that he got acclimated and got comfortable playing. Hopefully this allows him to come out and help us big time against other guys. We could really use that in Brooklyn. His size, he can do a lot of things on the court so hopefully that gave him the confidence he needs to help us win big."