In August of 2011 Alex Oriakhi got the chance to play next to a highly touted big man prospect named Andre Drummnod who was coveted for not only his size but for his mobility, athleticism and ability to defend the rim. This sounded like every UConn fan's dream. UConn would have insane depth in the front court, with Drummond drawing the attention while the shorter Oriakhi cleaned the glass and did dirty work as a hard-nosed power forward.
The only problem with the idea is that \ Oriakhi is not a power forward. He's a slightly undersized center who struggles when forced out of position. He's very limited on the offense end (I don't have numbers to show he lead the nation in missed put-backs and gimmies, but let's go ahead and say he led the nation in missed put-backs and gimmies) and his rebounding ability, which was so important for UConn in the 2011 title run is limited when he's paired with a more athletic big man who soaks up room in the paint.
So what happened? Frustration, both on Oriakhi's part and for fans. When was UConn at their best this year? When one of Drummond or Oriakhi was replaced by Roscoe Smith, who's a bit thin to play power forward, but had the skill set to complement either of UConn's big man.
That's why it's so surprising to me that in April of 2012, just eight months later, Alex Oriakhi is considering going to the same school as Nerlens Noel, which would put him next to a highly touted big man prospect who is coveted not only for his size but for his mobility, athleticism and ability to defend around the rim.
I can see why Oriakhi would want to team up with Noel. They're both products of new Hampshire's Tilton School, according to this New York Times piece they've been associated with the same questionable handler, they're both from Boston, and of course, just like last year the idea of pairing Oriakhi with a skilled young center is appealing.
But we've seen that movie know and we know how it ends, so if Noel decides he's going to Kentucky I hope for his sake Oriakhi looks elsewhere, because I want to see him succeed. James McAdoo is returning to North Carolina and I could see him being a terrific frontcourt mate for AO, and he wouldn't push him out of position. Duke has needed a big, physical clean-the-glass guy forever and Xavier has plenty of room on their roster (not to mention AO would be beastly in the less physical A10).
Of course, if Noel spurns Kentucky for Georgetown (c'mon, do you really think that's happening?) Oriakhi might be a great fit in Lexington -- say what you want about Calipari, but he does know how to get the best out of his best players, and if Oriakhi was the focus of UK's frontcourt I'm sure he'd do more than fine. However, I think his best fit is a bit further west: Missouri. The Tigers need help in the front court, but play fast, exciting basketball led by undersized rising junior point guard Phil Pressey (who played AAU ball with AO). Missouri's flaw this year was an inability to stop opponents from scoring and adding Oriakhi would be a boon. Plus, playing with a skilled point guard he knows could be a big advantage offensively, where he's going to need some help.
Wherever Oriakhi goes I wish him the best. I've enjoyed rooting for him for the last three years and I'll be pulling for him next year no matter where he goes, but I hope he learns some lessons from this year and puts himself in a situation where he can maximize his potential.