Feb. 7, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– When you’re young and a role player, the idea of “always be ready” can sound like something of a cliché.
Of course it’s only a cliché until “always” arrives.
“Always” arrived for redshirt freshman Sylvester Ogbonda on Saturday afternoon at 6:45 of the first half of Georgia Tech’s afternoon game at Joel Coliseum against Wake Forest when starting center and leading scorer Ben Lammers, who averages 2.6 fouls a game and has played 12 games this season committing two or fewer fouls, got whistled for his second personal.
Suddenly head coach Josh Pastner was looking down the bench and pointing at the 6-10, 231-pound forward from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
“I wouldn’t say [I was] a little bit nervous,” said Ogbonda, who had played only three minutes over the Yellow Jackets’ last eight games, with six DNPs. “I was just going out there and playing as hard as I can, basically do my job, rebound, run the floor, score when I have to. I was just trying to play as hard as I can. I think I did pretty okay, but I think it’s more keep on working and when the opportunity comes just make the most of it.”
Over the next 5:54, Ogbonda scored three points, all at the line where he was 3-for-4 (he was 0-for-1 shooting), grabbed a rebound at each end, made a steal, and blocked a shot, while committing one foul.
Lammers re-entered the game with 7:21 left, but after 66 seconds, Ogbonda would be back in after Lammers picked up foul No. 3. He’d all but finish the half — coming out with five seconds left — adding a bucket on a short jump hook with 35 seconds remaining that cut the Jackets’ deficit to 35-31. But he also picked up two more fouls.
In the second half, ‘Ves came in after Lammers got his fourth foul 5:02 in, but this time, lasted less than two minutes before fouling out.
For the day, Ogbonda played a career-high 14 minutes, matching the total number of minutes he’d played in the Jackets’ first 10 ACC games, scoring five points, also matching his career high, with two rebounds, a steal and a block.
“I thought ‘Ves gave us good minutes,” said Pastner. “He came in, did his job and worked hard. You could see that, obviously, not having Ben hurts us but ‘Ves came in and did some nice stuff.”
The effort he displayed was even more valiant as he’d been suffering from the stomach flu that hit several Jackets. He admitted that he’d been sick the night before, the morning of the game and at halftime.
He’s back closer to 100 percent physically and back to the drawing board — the film room, actually — where he and assistant coach Eric Reveno have been working to iron out some of the rough spots in his game.
“The biggest thing was the fouling,” Ogbonda said. “Just being physical and being over-physical sometimes, getting little fouls that I could have avoided. It was a learning experience. I watched film with Coach Rev today and we talked about a few things I should have done better and some things I should have avoided and how to overcome mostly the foul troubles I had.
“It’s more of habits, little things,” he added. “Like in practice, you hit people, and you think it’s fine, and then you get in the game and just shove someone and the refs call it. So I’m trying to eliminate some of the bad habits in practice so that it doesn’t transfer into the game.”
Lammers believes that Ogbonda is on the way to being a big-time player and sees parallels in his developmental road and the road Ogbonda is currently on.
“In practice, he’s a good player. Once he gets in the game a few more times, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable in the situation,” said Lammers. ‘I can remember last year and the year before, when I came in, I didn’t play a whole lot, so it always took me a while to kind of get in rhythm, get used to things. He needs to get a bit more comfortable in the following games he’ll come on.
“He just needs to find out what he’s best at,” he added. “He’s definitely a lot stronger than I am, so he can use that to his advantage. He might not be exactly as much of a high-post threat but he can definitely do something in the low post. He just needs to learn how to work that into the plays so he can get the ball where he’s best.”
Ogbonda, who didn’t seriously start playing basketball until ninth grade, is finding that the sessions with Reveno are helping him find that comfort zone, mentally and physically.
“It’s actually helped me a lot. It’s given me confidence with my shot,” he said. “Coach Rev is trying to get me to be more confident going straight to my move instead of hesitating and doing something that I’m not usually used to doing. He tries to get me comfortable shooting my hook shot, shooting my jump shot, being aggressive offensively. He has helped me a lot with that.”
The schedule may help as well.
With eight games remaining in the regular season — only one against a ranked team — and with an injury to forward Abdoulaye Gueye depleting the depth up front, Ogbonda may get to see some more floor time. He’s excited about that prospect and ready to get in and do some work.
“I feel a little bit more confident knowing that I’m going to get a couple of minutes coming up, like this stretch towards the end of the season,” he said. “I just have to stay ready and keep on practicing and just keep on doing what I’m doing in practice and hopefully lead the team to a win sometime.”