Okoye delivering just what Lackovic hoped for Redbacks
NIK Lackovic knew that his import signing for the 2014 SBL season would end up having a massive say in how his Perth Redbacks team went this year.
As a result, he went to huge lengths to make sure he got the man he was after and now 14 games into the 2014 SBL season he is delighted with what Stan Okoye is delivering.
Following the departures of Michael Vigor, Justin Brown and Adam Johnston after the 2013 season, Lackovic knew too well that the expectations weren’t high on the Redbacks coming into the season, but that didn’t mean he bought into that talk.
With Joel Wagner and Jarrad Prior still there, the Redbacks had a strong, experienced back court but Lackovic's focus turned to making sure the import he signed would be the right one for the club.
He heard about a man who had spent four years at Virginia Military Institute so he instantly knew he had enormous character, strength and toughness to have endured his time there. In fact not only did he endure, but he thrived.
Not only that but on the basketball court, Okoye set the standards for VMI in the Big South Conference averaging 21.5 points and 9.4 rebounds in his senior year to be named the conference's Player of the Year in 2013.
He had previously been named to the All-Freshman Team in 2010, the Second Team in 2012 and then the First Team of the Big South Conference in 2013 so he had a remarkable college career having been born, and growing up in North Carolina.
Since graduating from college, the Nigerian American had an ill-fated time with two Greek clubs before signing on with the Redbacks and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the 23-year-old 6'6 versatile star strongly considered for NBL or other European import roles in the near future.
Okoye has now played 14 matches in the SBL for the Redbacks averaging 28.1 points and 10.9 rebounds a game with three five 30-plus point games already and two where he has broken the 40-point barrier including a best of 46 points and eight boards on May 9 against the Lakeside Lightning.
Lackovic spoke to a lot of people about Okoye, liked everything he heard and now is delighted with what he is delivering for the Redbacks and expects him to only continue improving as well.
"I did a lot of due diligence in trying to find the right guy who was going to fit into our program, and that was what we were after. I spoke to his coach, coaches he played against and players over there, and he is my first import so he reflects upon me but more so for our program and team," Lackovic said on SBL Radio on 91.3 SportFM.
"I couldn’t be prouder of the guy who we've got as a person and also as a player. He has really galvanised us as a group. This group is tighter than any Redbacks group I can remember in a long time. They hang out together, they go paintballing, they go to the movies and they really have each other's backs.
"A lot of that is because of what he has brought with him from VMI. They break them down there real hard. He almost quit when he was at VMI early on, but he stuck through it and lasted four years, and was the Big South Conference Player of the Year.
"He put up impressive numbers and the numbers that we are starting to see from Stan over the last eight weeks are going to become more consistent."
As for the Redbacks overall, they currently sit on an 8-6 record to be sitting in sixth position with a clash against the bottom-placed Goldfields Giants to come in Kalgoorlie this Saturday night.
Lackovic has liked a lot of what his team has shown this year and is particularly looking forward to welcoming Joel Wagner, Zach Makavilitogin and Steve Vigor back into the line-up in the short term.
But firstly he wants to improve on a 2-5 record on the road starting this weekend.
"We've dropped a few games where we had double-digit leads in the third quarter and in three of those losses on the road we shot below 60 per cent at the foul line, and just didn’t close out when we were in a position to do that," Lackovic said.
"We'll make adjustments, we'll continue to grow and we've got some things to add into our group and team. That is primarily the heart and soul of our club Joel Wagner who is missing. Zach gets back, Steve Vigor has been out for a little while.
"I had a lot of coaches before the start of the year talk about the 70 points, 30 rebounds and 10 assists we lost from last year so obviously we were rebuilding with Justin, Michael and Adam Johnston leaving.
"But it doesn’t work that way with us and with what my plans are. To the credit of the guys they have committed themselves, put the hard work in and we've created a system that will hopefully benefit them in the long-term."
Article by Chris Pike
Photo by Serene Maisey