In the fall of 2012 Daniel Ochefu arrived on the Villanova campus with little expectations or fanfare. In his freshman season Ochefu had to fight for time and averaged only 17.5 minutes, 3.5 points, and 4.1 rebounds per game. Yet under Jay Wright’s tutelage, Ochefu developed in his four seasons and improved his production in each season. In his sophomore campaign, Ochefu averaged 21.7 minutes, 5.7 points, and 6.1 rebounds per game. By the time his junior year came around Ochefu was a major cog in the Villanova basketball machine. He provided a much needed size and an interior presence, controlling the paint. With Ochefu controlling the interior, the Wildcat guards could exploit mismatches on the perimeter. And in his last game in the Villanova uniform Ochefu was on the floor as the final buzzer sounded and the Wildcats were crowned champions. Even though Ochefu entered the program with very little hype the 6-foot-11 beloved big man is leaving behind a gigantic impact and an immense void that needs to be filled.
One of the candidates that can potentially replace Ochefu is incoming freshman Omari Spellman. The resident of North Royalton, Ohio ventured to prep school St. Thomas More in Oakdale, Connecticut where he excelled on the hardwood. While patrolling the paint Spellman started to receive notice from college scouts and college coaches. For the scouting service 247 Sports and ESPN.com, Spellman was a top 20 recruit nationwide.
With that kind of size and talent, all of the blue blood programs tried to court Spellman’s services. Arizona, UCONN, and Ohio State wanted to secure Spellman and Kentucky was leading the 247 crystal ball predictions, as 71% of journalist believed Spellman would join head coach John Calipari at Big Blue Nation. In February 2015, Spellman’s junior year, he made his intentions clear and shocked many of the expert recruiting analyst when he committed to coach Jay Wright and ‘Nova Nation.
This is advantageous for two reasons for Villanova. For starters, Spellman was an early recruit who committed before the Wildcats went on their magical NCAA tournament run. It is easy for a high-caliber to commit to a national champion, but at the time Spellman committed to Jay Wright, Villanova had not made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament the last three seasons.
In addition, it was extremely important for Jay Wright and Villanova to show that they can take a prized recruit away from the traditional powers. It also helps to elevate the Big East because they have shown the ability to lure phenomenal high school players.
Unlike Ochefu however, Spellman is the crown jewel of the recruiting class for the defending NCAA champions. Spellman stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 275 pounds which will be a tough force for opponents to stop. Depending on how Spellman develops, there can be a new weapon to the Wildcat scoring arsenal. While Ochefu was a solid player at ‘Nova he never developed into a dominant scorer with his back to the basket. If Spellman becomes a post-up threat he can command double teams which would create more space for the talented Villanova guards to operate.
Spellman also brings more than size to campus. According to the DraftExpress scouting report on Spellman, he has four major strengths. The first asset for Spellman is he has a 7-2 wingspan which is beneficial in three facets of the game of rebounding, shooting, and defending. The second is Spellman’s ability to rebound, especially on the offensive end and the ability to extend possessions is crucial in tight basketball games. Based off of the Prep Circuit statistics on St. Thomas More, Spellman averaged 9.1 rebounds per game in the 11 registered games on the site.
Furthermore, Spellman has the ability to face up defenders and create space to hit a mid-range to 3-point jumper. While the stretch 4 or 5 has become a valuable weapon in all of basketball very few of them have the size or tenacity of Spellman. On top of that, Spellman is not afraid to play through contact. The Big East has a reputation of being a very physical league and Villanova will have to carry the burden and honor of being the defending national champion. They will have a bullseye on their back and get the best effort from many, if not all, of their opponents in 2016-17.
There could also be two issues with Spellman unfortunately. Currently Spellman is facing academic issues and is cleared to practice with the Wildcats but not play at this point. According to Jay Wright, the NCAA is trying to determine when Spellman started the 9th grade. As a result of the pending NCAA inquiry, Spellman will not play in any of the exhibition games in Spain. As Jay Wright’s players have been able to steer clear of academic sanctions, this is unchartered territory for the ‘Nova program.
The second issue is if Spellman reaches his full potential as a basketball player and leaves Villanova early. In recent years, Jay Wright has obtained the services of those players that stay in college for four years and this year that strategy paid dividends. Spellman already has NBA size and scouts are sure to take a look at Spellman and evaluate his skillset. Now the best challenge will come when Spellman matches up with Jessie Govan of Georgetown. Govan has similar up at 6-foot-11 and 266 pounds. Govan is also projected by DraftExpress projected as the 30th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. A strong showing against Govan could increase Spellman’s stock or a poor showing against Govan could show Spellman’s limitations.
All of this however is yet to be determined as Spellman has not yet played a game for Villanova yet. What is known is the sky high expectations that accompany his monster frame with high grades from scouts. While Spellman’s story is yet to be written, one can hope for the absolute best and wish he leaves a massive footprint when his eligibility is exhausted for ‘Nova.
Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament