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True Freshman James Okonkwo 'Shocked' Bob Huggins Prior to Injury

The Mountaineers may have a special one in James Okonkwo.

It's a unique year for WVU head coach Bob Huggins as he prepares to navigate through a season with 15 players on his roster - the most he believes he's ever had. Guard Taz Sherman and forward Gabe Osabuohien elected to use their extra year of eligibility that the NCAA granted due to the pandemic. Their return does hold extreme value since they will be two of the most experienced players on the roster. 

Beyond the likes of Sherman, Osabuohien, and Jalen Bridges, this team is full of a bunch of new faces. With so many options for Huggins to rotate into the game, the plan was to redshirt true freshman big man James Okonkwo (6'8", 230 lbs) of Maidenhead, England. The 17-year old forward and his father agreed that it would benefit him to reclassify from the class of 2023 to the '21 class to practice with "grown men" as Huggins would say. This is the same plan that Huggins laid out for Jalen Bridges who has turned out to be a really productive player for the Mountaineers. 

Okonkwo's play in practice kind of threw a wrench in those plans. He was picking up things quickly, playing at a high level, and looked like he was ready to play this season. Then, he suffered a freak foot injury that is expected to sideline him for about a month and a half. 

"Honestly, I don't know what to tell you," Huggins said in regards to Okonkwo's injury. "It's neither [a break or fracture]. Some people I guess, those two bones, it's not that they've grown together, they work there together. What happened was he stepped on somebody's foot, it turned, and it just broke apart. They're not broken but they're apart and they were together from the time he was born. I don't know what you do to fix it. I mean, we can't glue it back together obviously. In the beginning, they said 5-6 weeks it would heal. But I don't know what that means."

Huggins continued to praise Okonkwo stating, "He shocked me. He was a lot better than what I saw on film." 

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Now that the promising youngster is going to be sidelined for an extended period of time, the redshirt plan may come back into play. If that happens, Huggins doesn't mind it.

"The way he was playing before he got hurt, he was going to play. He's quicker off the floor than our other guys. The plan all along was to redshirt him. That's what his dad wants and that was kind of his mindset going in."

A redshirt year could allow time for Okonkwo to get adjusted to the life of a major D-I student-athlete alongside transitioning to life in the states. Okonkwo came to the United States in August 2020 and enrolled at Beckley Prep. There, he saw a limited amount of action due to a broken finger and of course, the disruption of the pandemic. 

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