STILLWATER — “Who needs John Wall? We've got Jean-Paul,” blared a fan-held sign Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Don't worry. Oklahoma State basketball's newest cult hero isn't likely to get the big head, even after leading the Cowboys to a rousing 76-62 victory over 17th-ranked Kansas State. His coach will see to that.
Travis Ford said he's careful not to over-praise Jean-Paul Olukemi. Doesn't want the sophomore swingman to get too comfortable.
“Jean-Paul has a tendency to relax,” Ford said. “You gotta push him and push him.”
Olukemi pushed back against the Wildcats, a squad he had termed “bullies” who needed to be stood up to. Olukemi posted game highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds; he started and finished runs of 8-0 and 11-0 that were part of a 22-5 spree that turned around the game.
This was a huge January game for OSU: Big 12 opener, with two road games looming. The Cowboys badly needed a victory. They got that and more — a bonanza game from Olukemi in the conference opener.
This makes six straight double-digit scoring games for Olukemi. Suddenly, the Cowboys have a third scorer to go with Marshall Moses and Keiton Page, who each scored 16 against K-State.
“Very important,” Ford termed that development. “We don't have that one guy ... that James Anderson who can take any shot.”
In a game in which the other Cowboys shot just 32.5 percent from the field, Olukemi made seven of nine shots.
The OSU offense can look bad for long stretches. With 9½ minutes left in the game, the Cowboys were shooting 34 percent from the field and trailed 49-41.
But the Cowboys rarely are passive. They attack the basket, even when it's unforgiving. Olukemi drove and drew a foul. His foul shots made it 49-43. Then Page's pump fake drew a three-shot foul; he sank them all. Then Olukemi produced a three-point play in the paint, and in less than a minute, OSU had tied the game.
A similar explosion gave the Cowboys control. Olukemi's putback gave OSU a 54-54 tie. Moses sank two foul shots, then scored off his own miss. KSU's Jamar Samuels drew a technical on the play, and Page's foul shots gave OSU a six-point lead.
Then as the shot clock grew thin, Olukemi fired in a long 3-pointer. Suddenly, OSU led 63-54, an 11-0 run produced in less than 90 seconds.
“We dug down,” Ford said. “When our backs were against the wall against a really, really good team, we responded.”
Olukemi is a 6-foot-5 junior-college transfer who arrived in Stillwater a year ago and sat out. His primary duty was to make Anderson work hard in practice.
Now he's the closest thing OSU has to Anderson, the score-every-which-way guard now with San Antonio's Spurs.
Olukemi still isn't starting; he's fifth on the team in minutes played. But eventually, Ford will have to look past loyalty and chemistry and start Olukemi instead of Nick Sidorakis.
“I see so much potential in him,” Ford said of Olukemi. “I still think he has much more that he can do.”
But Ford admitted Olukemi is starting to get it. Starting to realize how hard he has to play and how good he can be.
“He's one of 'em, starting to figure it out,” Ford said. “Thinking, ‘Hey, I can affect this game. Maybe I do have some physical tools.'”
Maybe not the tools of John Wall. But Jean-Paul's tools will do just fine.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.