PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Obukwelu emerges as a sophomore sensation
UT Tyler sophomore Emeka Obukwelu is averaging 27 points and 13.7 rebounds per game for the Patriots and is the first player in program history with three straight games with double-doubles.
UT Tyler sophomore Emeka Obukwelu is averaging 27 points and 13.7 rebounds per game for the Patriots and is the first player in program history with three straight games with double-doubles.

Monday, November 27, 2017
by Wes Bloomquist |

TYLER – Having not played organized athletics until high school, being the son of parents from Nigeria and with aspirations of being an eye doctor, Emeka Obukwelu’s background is as unique as his domination on the basketball court for UT Tyler through three games this season.

A Plano native who won helped Plano West win the 2015 Class 6A State Championship, Obukwelu has started his sophomore season as the only player in program history to record three straight double-doubles and has earned back-to-back American Southwest Conference East Division Player of the Week honors after performances that have him averaging 27 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. His three double-doubles are the second most in the nation and he’s currently fourth in rebounds per game and 13th in scoring average.

“My mentality is to play at a high level on both sides of the court and for the entire game,” Obukwelu said. “I’m trying to be everything that our team needs me to be, from being a vocal leader to scoring points and getting rebounds. I’m playing with a greater sense of urgency and with a mindset to just to give it my all for my team.”

Obukwelu arrived in Tyler as a freshman at 6-foot-8 and immediately made an impact with 19 points and seven rebounds in the season-opener against Williamette. He would go on to average 6.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in his first season, but started establishing himself as a leader on the team despite being one of the youngest players on the roster. This season, he scored a career-best 28 points and added 13 rebounds in a 78-76 win over Texas Lutheran to start the season and then had a career-high 16 rebounds and added 26 points in a win at Southwestern. Those performances earned him his first-ever ASC Player of the Week honor, but were followed by a 27/12 display at Austin College that had him recognized with the award again. He’s the first player in UT Tyler’s 15-year history to record three straight double-doubles and the first player since Anthony Reese in 2009 to be named ASC Player of the Week in consecutive announcements.

“He is a great person, student, and player that we are blessed to have as a part of our family,” UT Tyler coach Jamon Copeland said. “We are excited about his development and growth as a player. He continues to work on his craft and you see it paying dividends for him.”

Obukwelu’s parents immigrated to the United States after high school to pursue their education at the University of Texas at Austin before starting a family and moving to the Dallas area. Emeka, who is a biology major, has two sisters, one who attends UT Austin and one at Florida State along with a brother in high school. Growing up, he did not play sports beyond recreationally with his friends, but always enjoyed basketball and soccer which is the dominant sport in Nigeria. Being one of the tallest students at Plano West though, he found himself a role on the state championship team as a junior and would serve as the team’s captain as a senior where he earned all-district honors. He said there was a learning curve when he started playing organized sports in high school, but he quickly adapted and enjoyed it. That’s been the case in college too as he found a role as a freshman and is now becoming one of the best players in the conference.

“There are numerous reasons why I’m playing the way I am and our team is doing so well,” Obukwelu said. “Our coaches have us prepared and are putting us in position to succeed. We put in tons of work in the summer and in the preseason to max out our potential.”

Obukwelu and the Patriots are off to a 3-0 start to the season and play their home opener at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in a rematch against Texas Lutheran at the Herrington Patriot Center. He comes into the game shooting a staggering 77.1 percent from the field (37-for-48) which ranks sixth in the nation and tops the ASC. He’s currently leading the conference in eight statistical categories and is almost halfway to the program record of eight double-doubles in a season which is owned by Darren Houliston (2011-12) and Patrick Branche (2004-05). Those stats are impressive and fun for fans to see, but for Obukwelu it’s more about team success than anything else.

“I just go out there and play to try and help our team,” he said. “I don't even know about the stats until someone tells me. Winning is all I care about.”