Jan. 22, 2014
By Sean Brennan
In our latest installment of “Getting to Know…,” we catch up with St. John’s sophomore shot-blocking sensation Chris Obekpa. Just your run-of-the-mill 6-9 kid who leads the BIG EAST in blocks, hails from royalty in his native Nigeria, is not a big fan of winter and who thinks St. John’s still has ample time to turn its season around despite its’ 0-5 start to conference play.
BIGEAST.com: Chris, you come from royalty in Nigeria. Can you tell us about your family and your upbringing?
OBEKPA: My grandfather (who is known by the family name Obekpa) was the king of the tribe. (His father, Gabriel is a prince while his uncle Elias has the title of Royal Highness). But we lived a regular life like regular people. There were no castles over there (laughs).
BIGEAST.com: What is the tribe that your grandfather and father were a part of?
OBEKPA: The name of the tribe was the Idoma tribe.
BIGEAST.com: Do you have a title as well?
OBEKPA: No I don’t. I’m just like a regular person. (With his conference-leading 68 blocks so far this year, which has Obekpa as the country’s second-leading shot blocker behind Arizona’s Jordan Bachynski, the Sultan of Swat would have been a perfect name for Obekpa---had Babe Ruth not already grabbed that one).
BIGEAST.com: Do you make it home to Nigeria often?
OBEKPA: Yeah, I actually made it back home last summer.
BIGEAST.com: You came to America in 2010 to attend Our Savior New American for prep school. Was it a hard adjustment for you?
OBEKPA: I tried to blend in but (the biggest thing) was the cold. I never liked the cold. It bothers me.
BIGEAST.com: At what age did you start playing basketball?
I started playing when I was around 14 or 15 years old.
BIGEAST.com: Because you haven’t been playing basketball all that long is there a lot of room for growth in your game still to come?
OBEKPA: Yeah I think so. You can always get better every day.
BIGEAST.com: Most college players dream of being that elite scorer but you make your bones on the defensive end. Can you talk about how much you like playing defense and, of course, the blocked shots?
OBEKPA: When I was learning basketball everyone wanted to score but I wanted to do something different. I like to play defense because without defense you can’t win.
BIGEAST.com: You average 3.2 points a game but 3.8 blocks. What would you prefer to do in a game if given the chance: score 20 points or log seven blocks?
OBEKPA: Seven blocks definitely. But anything to make my team win.
BIGEAST.com: You come from a rather large family (Chris is the seventh of 10 children of his mom, Alizabeth, and his dad, Prince Gabriel) and you have two younger brothers back home. Any chance there might be more Obekpa brothers heading over here to play basketball?
OBEKPA: No they’re smart (students). They’re staying in school.
BIGEAST.com: There are rumors to the effect that you are a jokester, a 6-9, 240-pound class clown. Any truth to that?
OBEKPA: Yeah. I love to make people smile. I do jokes or whatever it takes to make my teammates laugh.
BIGEAST.com: Last question, everyone has been saying that St. John’s boasts a very talented roster this season yet the team is off to a slow start (0-5 in the BIG EAST). Is there still time to turn the season around for the Johnnies?
OBEKPA: Yeah we just got to get better. We’ve got to win, play together and play hard. Things can still turn around. We just have to take one game at a time.