mar 05, 2017 | mark Whicker |o.c. register | ARTICLE LINK
LOS ANGELES – The registrar at Centennial High called the basketball office.
She told Josh Giles, the coach, that a student was there with his parents, and that he wanted to play basketball and that he was in the IB program. That’s International Baccalaureate, reserved for the advanced of the advanced.
Giles rolled his eyes. In his mind he pictured Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory.”
“Coach, I think you’re going to want to come down here,” the registrar repeated.
So Giles did. And he met a 6-foot-7 fellow, 14 years old, with very long arms and wide shoulders. His name was Ike Anigbogu and he was there with his parents.
Giles profusely thanked the registrar. He also high-fived Anigbogu.
“I was glad he took me in,” Anigbogu said.
You have to “five” a little higher to do that now. Anigbogu is 6-foot-10. After a fine career at Centennial, he is having a fine freshman season at UCLA, maybe too fine.
Every time he explodes off the floor to block a shot or spring toward the hoop for a Lonzo Ball-generated lob and dunk, Anigbogu flutters the hearts of NBA scouts.
As the Bruins begin what they hope is a four-week postseason, Anigbogu becomes one of the most important players in the nation who is averaging fewer than 14 minutes. He has 33 blocked shots in 329 minutes. His rebounding and menace helped the Bruins reverse a 19-point deficit and beat Oregon. At Arizona State he had 12 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
Be clear on this: If UCLA was as defenseless as its doubters think, it would not have a 28-3 record. It has tightened its zone in recent games, and in the bigger games.
But you don’t need a FISA warrant to know that the Bruins have trouble showing a stop sign, or even a yield sign, in front of dribbling guards. Anigbogu is the end of the road for such penetrators. No other Bruin does what he does. Certainly not as loudly.
“I think the biggest thing that’s improved is my motor,” Anigbogu said. “Just running the floor hard, every single time. On top of that, I’m just trying to improve my overall game. Left hooks, right hooks, stuff like that. Right now is the right time to start showing that. The team needs everything it can get.”
“The Oregon game, that was just a matter of getting in there and going with the flow. We needed to get back into the game.”
Anigbogu played with Ball on a team that won the Adidas Nations event in Corona two years ago. But he hadn’t yet connected the game with his future. His parents, Chris and Veronica, are from Nigeria, and education is the priority.
Family is, too. When an elder passed away in Nigeria, the family went home en masse. The tributes lasted two weeks.
“Coach (Giles) let me know what this could lead to,” Anigbogu said. “My parents are almost in shock over what has happened. Me, too, really.”
One of his sisters went to UCLA and turned out to be Steve Alford’s best recruiter. “She told me about the campus and being so close to the ocean, so it was a no-brainer to come here,” said Anigbogu, who then became the top-rated center in Southern California. In 2015, as a junior, he helped the Huskies to the state regional finals, where they lost to Ball and Chino Hills. Shortly afterward he committed to UCLA.
But he still had to improve his hands and refine his game. Giles says Anigbogu hates being called “raw.” Maybe “ripening” sounds better.
“We had all kinds of drills with him,” Giles said. “I’d have him face a wall. Then I’d get behind him and throw the ball against the wall and he’d have to catch it, and I wasn’t throwing easy passes either. Then I’d feed him the ball in the post, try to short-hop him, make him reach this way and that.
“But the real key was related to what he was doing academically. He had first-period gym with me, and then he was so far ahead in his work that I could get him for second period, too. He was my teaching assistant for PE. So basically he had almost two-and-a-half hours working on his game in the gym, every day. And that was before practice started.”
With each of his practices, Anigbogu moves the Bruins toward their best. Not until later will they worry that he might reach his best without them.