Okpomo plays for family on the court

Temple University basketball transfer Emmanuel Okpomo reflects on his basketball journey from Nigeria to Temple.

Emmanuel Okpomo, a sophomore undecided major, transferred from Wake Forest University to play center for Temple’s men’s basketball team. | EMMANUEL OKPOMO / COURTESY

It’s been almost seven years since Temple University basketball transfer Emmanuel Okpomo saw any of his immediate family members.

Hailing from the Delta State Region of Nigeria, Okpomo, a sophomore undecided major, moved to America at the age of 15 on a basketball scholarship, living with his guardian, Ohmar Carter, in Mississippi.

“I feel blessed for the opportunity I have,” Okpomo said. “I came from nothing, but I’ll be something.”

Whether it was playing soccer in the street or going to church with his two older brothers, Okpomo retains happy memories of his time in Nigeria. But nobody could stop him from pursuing his dream of playing basketball, which has helped carve a path for Okpomo today. 

“My parents, they didn’t really want me to play basketball, because they felt like it was a waste of time,” Okpomo said. “In Africa the parents want their kids to be like doctors or engineers. [My mom] said nobody travels abroad for sports. I was like ‘no, then I want to be the first.’”

Okpomo began working out with Temple basketball on June 22. That was late compared to his teammates, but it did not take him long to fit right in, said Assistant Coach Chris Clark.

“It took him two to three weeks to really open up, now he thinks he’s the funniest guy on the team,” Clark said. “You can’t get him to stop talking.”

Throughout the summer practices, Okpomo has taken his work ethic that former Coach  Steve Smith raved about at Oak Hill Academy to the Temple practice facilities on North Broad. 

Okpomo has two goals for himself in the Owls’ program: to get better as a player and as a teammate, he said.

Whether it’s pushing fellow junior forward Jake Forrester for every rebound in practice, hanging out with teammates that live on his building’s floor, or eating a bowl of cereal five minutes before practice, Okpomo has made his presence known, Clark said. 

“It’s more than just basketball for us,” he added. “It is about really developing and investing into these young men on and off the court.”

Okpomo joined Huntington St. Joseph Prep in West Virginia when he was 16 years old. He was 6’9 and had the physicality most teams can’t find at his age.

But Okpomo spent three years playing under a system he didn’t like, he said, eventually leading to his transfer to Oak Hill Academy, who was ranked No. 2 in the nation, for his senior year. 

There, Okpomo would thrive under Smith, who coached several NBA stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant over his 37 year career, Smith said.

Okpomo averaged more than two blocks per game at Oak Hill. He eventually committed to Wake Forest after he decommitted from the University of South Florida in April of 2020.

“When I committed [to USF] I felt like I kind of rushed it,” Okpomo said.

After one up-and-down season at Wake Forest, Okpomo was still looking for some consistency in playing time for him to develop as a player. 

“When he left [Wake Forest] I talked to him again, and he also talked to Dion Dacons, one of my assistants who played at Temple,” Smith said. “We thought that [Temple] was the best move for him, [Dacons] trusted everybody there.”

Clark and Head Coach Aaron McKie have FaceTime called with Okpomo’s family back in Nigeria, and they also remained in contact with his guardian, Carter, before Carter passed away from colon cancer in May 2020. 

While the team has goals of winning the American Athletic Conference this winter, Okpomo has a vision of bringing his family to America to watch him play for the very first time, he said.

“My mom would try to stop me so many times,” Okpomo said. “She would come to the basketball camps and try to fight the coaches so they would push me away.”

Going so long without seeing his mother only adds fire to Okpomo’s passion for the game, he added.

“Moving away from my family for so long, it’s got to pay off,” Okpomo said. “All I gotta do is work, and I’m for sure going to get there.”

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