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NORMAL — Francis Okoro got out his cellphone where he has the names of schools stored on a list.

Trying to remember the numerous college basketball scholarship offers that flooded in this summer isn't easy.

"I'm looking at a lot of colleges right now and figuring out where I fit in," he said Thursday afternoon. "Right now it's something to think about and put in your mind, but you still have to stay focused."

Okoro, the 6-foot-9 Normal West High School junior who now weighs 233 pounds, has become the No. 1 prospect in the state in the Class of 2019 and ranked No. 31 nationally according to ESPN.  

Spending the summer playing AAU with the St. Louis Eagles, Okoro's recruitment took off. He landed scholarship offers from some of the heavyweight programs in the country, including Kansas and Indiana.

The University of Illinois and new head coach Brad Underwood also offered. Other power-five conference schools among 30 offers include Missouri, Northwestern, Oregon, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Alabama and Notre Dame, along with Big East schools DePaul and Marquette.

Okoro also said he "definitely" remains interested in Illinois State, which offered him early and got a commitment from Bloomington High School junior standout forward Chris Payton last week.

Normal West coach Brian Cupples said he is getting calls and mail daily from colleges inquiring about Okoro. There figures to be a parade of big-name coaches filtering to West when open gyms begin Sept. 11 with more offers sure to follow.

Okoro averaged 8.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while shooting 58.8 percent from the field with the Eagles. Improving his footwork was one of Okoro's major emphasises this summer.

Offensively, Okoro said he has been working on developing a mid-range jump shot to go with his low-post game.

"That is one thing every coach has talked to me about," he said. "I talked to so many college coaches who said we already know you can block shots and rebound. We don't want just that kind of player. We want you to develop more."

Okoro, a native of Nigeria who came to the United States in 2014, said he is not in any hurry to select a college.

Along with his aunt and uncle, Nweze and Emeka Nnakwe, whom he lives with and considers as his parents, and cousin Ikechi Nnakwe of St. Louis, Okoro said he might make four or five unofficial recruiting visits this fall and a couple more in the spring.

"I'm still trying to see how I'm going to fit in," he said. "After watching the game two years now, I've seen a lot of stuff and am still trying to improve ... You have to watch (college) teams every game they play, how coaches connect with players, what kind of things coaches love. It depends on how a coach treats their players."

Okoro said he was "excited" when Kansas and coach Bill Self offered, but added, "You want to be a player that every school offers you and you don't want it to be a surprise."

ISU, Illinois and other Midwest schools, including Saint Louis, hoping their location close to Okoro's family pays off shouldn't believe they have an advantage.

"I would love to stay close to my auntie and uncle just because I want them to watch me play every time, but that doesn't mean I have to stay close," he said. "If I see a college I really love, no matter how far they are, I'll go. They say any school you want to go, no matter how far, they will support me."

Okoro was an all-Big 12 Conference and Pantagraph All-Area selection in his first season with Normal West last season. Facing constant double teams, Okoro managed to average 15.9 points to go along with 9.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.

Not only does Okoro want to show a mid-range game this season with the Wildcats, but he said he is working to improve his "basketball IQ ... and have the game slow down."

"I want him to do everything," said Cupples. "I want him to be a great passer, defender and knock down shots where he'll be harder to guard (in the post)."

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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