By wearing a red sweatshirt, Goodluck Okonoboh was not tipping his hand. Would he pick Indiana, Ohio State or UNLV? All three teams sport some version of red.
In Okonoboh’s televised announcement Thursday on ESPNU, the Rebels turned out to be the lucky ones, and their recruiting class for 2014 is shaping up as one of the nation’s best.
A 6-foot-9-inch forward from Wilbraham &Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Mass., Okonoboh committed to play basketball at UNLV, which beat out two Big Ten rivals in addition to Duke and Florida.
Okonoboh said he “established a real good relationship” with Rebels coach Dave Rice, who quickly is establishing himself as an elite recruiter from coast to coast.
“They play really fast, and that style of play fits me,” Okonoboh said. “The blueprint they had for me was second to none.”
Rivals.com ranks Okonoboh as the nation’s No. 32 senior. In March, the Rebels received a commitment from Dwayne Morgan, a 6-7 forward from Baltimore who is ranked No. 15. In June, UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett went No. 1 in the NBA Draft.
Okonoboh said Bennett’s rise made a “big” impression, as did his friendship with Rebels junior center Khem Birch, who is from Canada. Okonoboh said Rice’s program is tailored to develop big men who can run the floor.
Rice and his assistant coaches are luring four- and five-star prospects to play in the Mountain West, which is no easy task, and they are fishing for more.
Findlay Prep guard Rashad Vaughn, the nation’s No. 7-ranked senior, has UNLV on his short list.
Stephen Zimmerman, a 7-footer from Bishop Gorman High School, is another high-priority recruiting target for the Rebels. Zimmerman is ranked No. 2 in the class of 2015.
In July, when Okonoboh’s team from Boston played in the adidas Super 64 tournament at Rancho High School, Rice watched from the bleachers. At the time, Louisville and Syracuse also were in the hunt for Okonoboh, an explosive athlete with dominant shot-blocking skills.
“This is a huge pickup for UNLV,” said Paul Biancardi, ESPN.com’s director of basketball recruiting. “You look at the other schools, it’s a little bit surprising.”
Okonoboh, who averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks as a junior, is ranked No. 21 in ESPN’s national rankings for 2014.
“I really feel relieved and very happy,” he said after pulling on a red UNLV hat.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.