Jeff Capel and staff received a St. Patrick’s Day present when they officially received a verbal commitment from 6-foot-5-inch guard Femi Odukale from Springfield Commonwealth Academy in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Odukale originally played for South Shore High School in Brooklyn, NY. He chose the Panthers over Seton Hall, Massachusetts, Virginia Tech and Saint Bonaventure. Femi is the 4th player to the join the Panthers 2020 recruiting class.
To gain perspective on Odukale, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Springfield Commonwealth Academy Head Basketball Coach Nick Couluris. “I had Femi for one year. We’ve been together for about the last six months and got a chance to meet him early in the summer when I first took the job up here and they were kind of looking for a prep spot that would fit Femi,” stated Couluris. “I got a chance to meet him and loved him from the first time I met him.”
Odukale was generally projected as a wing on the next level. He transitioned to point guard his post-graduate year and opening eyes. Coach Couluris was asked about what prompted the position change and he stated, “When Femi first got on to campus, he was probably the second biggest guy on the floor at that point. We hadn’t officially had Isaiah Richards on campus who’s our 6-foot-10 inch big and we were playing a lot of stuff through Femi and Aaron Gray at kind of the four, five, a lot of high post stuff and letting them make reads and letting them be the decision makers, but you know, through the undersize big spot,” he said.
“We had the opportunity where we were like, ‘Well shoot, he may be the best player on the floor right now.’ Clearly, it’s always good as a coach to put the ball in your best player’s hands. We decided to try it out and since week two, he’s had the ball in his hands and he’s been running the show, “he said.
“My biggest sell to all the coaches that have been recruiting him is, ‘You guys weren’t recruiting him last year when he was playing the wing. He was mostly a mid-major guy and we put the ball in his hands and now he’s garnering all this attention. You don’t take away his best asset. The main reason all of you are recruiting him is because you see what he could do with the ball in his hands. It would make the most sense for everybody if that that’s what he was doing at the next level.”
Coach Couluris was asked to describe his personality on and off the court. He emphatically stated, “First and foremost, Femi is an unbelievable competitor. This kid is competing, whether it’s first in line to the lunch room or one-on-one on the floor. This kid wants to win and is about winning. From the first time he got on campus, we’ve had preliminary conversations and he said, ‘Coach, it’s about winning. If we win, we’re all going to be in the position we need to become the end of the year.’”
“He’s fully bought into that and he’s a natural leader. People follow that kid. You see his teammates, our school community, we’re a small school community and these guys just kind of rally around this kid. He’s just been unbelievable to have for a year one kind of restart program and he’s just done a great job.”
Pitt has historically done well with players from ‘The Big Apple’. New Yorkers tend to play with a unique toughness and swagger. Pitt freshman Justin Champagnie made a significant impact on the basketball program and it can be argued he finished the season as the best player on the roster. Coach Couluris was asked about Odukale’s New York roots and he stated, “Let me say this, when he’s competing on the floor, he’s the last one you kind of want to try to get under their skin because if you hit that switch for him, it’s going to be a problem.”
“You saw it in our championship game against Woodstock. It was a six, seven-point game, at half time, and just out of half he caught an elbow and ended up with seven stitches in his lip after the game. He played but was dripping blood the rest of the game. We ended up winning by 20 points. It’s a tight game and he literally saw blood and he’s a shark, he’s a killer, and he went after it, and that game wasn’t the same after that kind of shot.”
“When someone starts to challenge Femi, he goes into that New York swagger. He likes to quote, ‘We could play for bread after this.’ He likes to joke with people and he goes, ‘Okay, you think you’re better than me. We’ll play for bread. When the game’s over, we’ll play one-on-one and you let me know who’s better.’”
Odukale is currently 6-foot-5 inches and roughly 200 pounds. Couluris was asked about Odukale’s overall conditioning and build and he stated, “His frame will allow for a lot more weight. Femi’s always going to–he’s just so long–never going to look big. He’s not your typical New York guard in that he’s so fluid in his movement because of his length and his wingspan and he’s just really kind of like a stretched-out kid. You would never know he’s a solid 195 pounds. If you just looked at him, he looks thinner than he is, but he’s ACC ready all the way and he’ll be able to come in and compete. His frame will allow for him to put on 10, 15 pounds easily and you won’t even notice it.”
Couluris had nothing but praise for Jeff Capel and his assistants’ approach throughout the recruiting process. “They did a phenomenal job. You know, Milan, Timmy and Coach Capel did a phenomenal job,” he said. “I mean they kind of showed up late to the party, but they definitely crashed it. They were at a ton of our games. They were always in contact with Femi and me and his family and they just did a good job of making it feel like home for him.”
Harry Psaros can be found on Twitter at @PittGuru