Igor Ibaka, the brother of Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, carries a surname that adds immediate intrigue around these parts. But starring for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M last season, Igor was in the early stages of a college career quickly gaining steam.
And now, it seems, there will be more of an interest in Igor statewide. News surfaced on Tuesday night – first reported by Rivals site Juco Junction and later confirmed by The Oklahoman – that Igor intends to play for Oklahoma State in the 2015-16 season.
Igor impressed during a December game attended by The Oklahoman, blocking a few shots, throwing down a dunk and flashing a smooth looking jumper, rare in most big men and similar in form to his brother. He’s smaller and much less polished than Serge was at this point of his development, but still seems to have a solid college career ahead of him. And apparently, Travis Ford and the Cowboy staff agrees.
Before he can play his first game in Stillwater, roadblocks remain in Igor’s way. To explain his eligibility situation and to give better insight into his development path, The Oklahoman chatted with NEO coach Dustin Grover, who brought Igor over and groomed him the past year.
Q: This Igor news has surfaced. Is that for sure?
A: Nothing is for sure because he can’t sign yet. But I think he has, to a certain extent, verbally committed. But he is taking classes at another junior college and he’s gonna attempt to graduate, taking summer classes now and some classes next fall and spring. And after that, after he graduates, his intentions are to go to Oklahoma State.
Early last season he was getting looked at by Mountain West and Southland teams. How did Oklahoma State enter the picture?
Wichita State was in at the end. People like Tulsa, they all expressed interest. Then as the summer got closer, with everyone itching for a big man, Oklahoma State called and asked. Then one thing led to another and I think the appeal being a little closer to Oklahoma City (and his brother), for him, and the fact that Oklahoma State is in the Big 12, those things kind of combined for him to get very interested in them. From that point on, he became very interested in what they had to offer.
Sounds like he can’t play next season. Is that strictly an academic, eligibility thing?
Yeah, he’s a nonqualifier (in junior college). So when you’re a non-qualifier, you have to graduate from junior college. So he has to get his associate’s degree, then he can transfer in, just like any non-qualifier would. Once he gets graduated, he’d be able to transfer there and that would happen in the fall of 2015. He’s gonna take summer school and classes next fall and spring.
I can’t comment on that yet.
But he will not play basketball next year?
No, he cannot play basketball. It’s against NCAA rules because he is too old to compete. Once you turn 22, you can’t compete at the junior college level anymore (Igor turns 22 in July).
How many years will he be eligible at OSU?
That’s up to the NCAA. He’s only competed in college one year. The NCAA may come back and say he has three, two, I don’t know what they’ll say, but that’s up to them. I’m sure once he gets through the clearinghouse, they’ll give him that final say.
You coached him last season, know his game and know the level of D1 competition. Do you view him as a guy who can go into OSU in a year and immediately contribute?
I think in order for him to compete at the Big 12 level in 2015, his skill set in the low post needs to improve a lot. He’s got the jumpshot, got a face-up game and got the size. But in order to play at that level at a 6-foot-7 size, height, he’s going to have to improve his low-post ability to score. Doesn’t quite have that yet. So he has some growth to do over the next 12 months because the Big 12 is a high, major conference and he’s only played one year of college basketball.
You mentioned the ability to hit the jumper. He stretches out to mid-range and near the college three. Can that translate?
He got a lot better with it as the year went on. By the time the end of our year, he was pretty integral on our team, that ability to hit that shot. I think he’s going to have to do that at his size, at 6-7. But post guys, at that level, still got to be able to score on the interior. So he’s going to have to do both. A lot of that is just footwork and having a go-to move at that level. He’ll be able to work on all that stuff over the next year, he’s just not going to be able to get the game practice of it. He’s not going to be playing in games. So he’s going to have to get on the floor and work on it.
His brother’s known as such a hard-worker. They seem to have similar personalities. Do you see that trait in Igor?
I think he does. Igor hasn’t been playing that long. And as with anyone who is just learning, he’s going to have to learn to compete harder when he’s not on the game floor. But his personality and his character and those type of things, that’ll happen with him being a hard-worker. The only concern I would have over the next 12 months is he’s going to need to have a little guidance. Because it’s not easy sitting out a year and not being in a program, that’s not an easy thing to accomplish. So he’s going to need a little guidance, pushing him to a certain extent. But he has all the ability in the world to do it.
Six-foot-seven and weighs what?
225 right now and can probably get bigger. So he’s a big man. And simply put, there’s not many of those out there. He would be projected as one of the best junior college big man out there if he was coming back and playing for us. He would be the best in our league. I’d put him in the upper-echelon of players.