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50 Days to Tipoff: Player Previews - Sylvester Ogbonda

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Is the young big man ready to shoulder a bigger role this season?

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Today we turn our attention from the newcomers to returning players. Which players will lead the team in 2017-2018? Who will step into bigger roles this season? Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll discuss.

Sylvester Ogbonda

One of the players looking to play a bigger part for the Yellow Jackets is redshirt sophomore big man Sylvester Ogbonda. Last season, Ogbonda was a deep reserve who didn’t really see significant time until A.D. Gueye’s broken hand forced him into backup minutes during the second half of the ACC schedule. On the season, Ogbonda played in 23 games, averaging 5.2 minutes per game. He scored 36 total points (1.6 ppg) on 48.1% shooting while pulling down just a hair over 1 rebound per game.

A 6’-10”, 239 lb post player from Nigeria by way of the National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Maryland, Ogbonda was a consensus 3-star recruit and the first member of Georgia Tech’s 2015 recruiting class. He was seen as a raw but promising prospect who had a chance to be something of a sleeper. Ogbonda didn’t start playing basketball until shortly before he came to the United States at the age of 15. He redshirted his freshman year due to the glut of front court options on the 2015-2016 team and to give him time to develop.

During non-conference play last season Ogbonda was the team’s third big man behind Ben Lammers and A.D. Gueye. Since Coach Josh Pastner generally played just one true big at a time (with Quinton Stephens acting as a stretch 4), Ogbonda was largely left with mop-up duty, playing just a handful of minutes here and there. He played significant minutes in just three games: the blowout loss to Duke, the win against D-II Tusculum, and a road loss to Wake Forest when Lammers was in foul trouble and Gueye was injured. With such limited game action it’s hard to project much for Ogbonda but there are a few things that can be gleamed from last season.

Watching Ogbonda, one of the things that really jumps out his energy. He is extremely athletic, long, and plays hard. This shows up in the stat book in a few ways. First, Ogbonda looks like he has a chance to develop into a force on the boards. Last season he was third on the team in offensive rebounding percentage, again, in very limited action. He has some work to do on the defensive glass but that should improve as he continues to learn the game and how to position himself. His high motor shows itself again in his shot blocking ability. In 120 minutes, Ogbonda blocked 6 shots and did it at a rate higher than Ben Lammers blocked shots his freshman season.

Now, as would be expected, when you have a young, athletic, energetic player who is still learning the game, it’s not all good. The area where Ogbonda has the most room for improvement is in playing strong defense without fouling. Last season, Ogbonda picked up 28 fouls. That’s a foul roughly every 4 and a half minutes he was on a court, or over 9 fouls per 40 minutes. It’s not super uncommon for young big men to have a foul problem but Ogbonda really needs to bring that down or he’ll be near unplayable.

Looking ahead to this season, I would be surprised if Ogbonda plays a huge role on this team. I’d expect Josh Pastner to stick to playing one true big at a time, similar to last year’s team. That would likely leave Ogbonda behind Lammers and Gueye in the rotation. There is a slight chance he could pass Gueye but A.D. was a slightly more polished player last season and there’s not really a reason to project Ogbonda passing him just yet.

Pastner could throw a bit of a wrinkle into this projection by playing another big alongside Lammers more often than he did last season. Unless freshman Evan Cole is ready for a big role there’s no obvious person to step into Quinton Stephens’ stretch 4 role. I’d expect Pastner to primarily use a four guard lineup with Josh Okogie, Brandon Alston, or Curtis Haywood nominally playing the 4 but I could see a situation where two of Lammers, Gueye, and Ogbonda are on the court at all times, especially against bigger teams. I’d be worried about the spacing and flow of the offense with such a lineup but if Gueye and Ogbonda have developed as passers and playmakers in the offseason it could be workable.