SOMONAUK – On a team with three starters 6-foot-7 or taller, 5-8 point guard Freddy Okito seems an unlikely bet to pull down double-digit rebounds.
Yet the Mooseheart sophomore found his spots to pounce with regularity during Wednesday’s 81-41 Mooseheart thrashing of Serena in an IHSA Class 1A Somonauk Regional semifinal.
Okito’s 12 rebounds were just one of several head-shaking realities for an overwhelmed Serena squad as the Ramblers advanced to Friday’s regional final against Newark.
“Just because I’m the shortest one out there … I’m a very quick one also,” said Okito, who was born in Rwanda but grew up on the north side of Chicago. “So I’ll be quick to go to the boards, and I try to get my hops up there a little bit, because when I’m on the court, I feel really energetic.”
Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said Okito flirting with or exceeding double-digit rebounds has happened several times this season, despite the presence of 7-foot-1 center Akim Nyang, 6-10 forward Makur Puou and 6-7 wing Mangisto Deng.
“[Okito] has to go down and cover the bottom cutter so he’s basically a lot of times the off-side rebounder, and he’s done a fantastic job all year,” Ahrens said.
Okito’s knack for gobbling rebounds was impressive but didn’t have the Somonauk gymnasium buzzing quite like the Ramblers’ six dunks or 10 blocked shots against a Serena team with no players taller than 6-3.
Two of the dunks were monster jams by Puou after teammates tossed feeds off the backboard, showtime style, with Deng and Hameed Odunewu notching those assists.
“We don’t practice those,” Ahrens said. “They probably practice them more watching TV or playing NBA video games or something than we actually do in practice because if you look, I think we left three or four easy baskets out there where we’re trying to put it off the backboard and things, and that’s why I tell them I’m OK with that, but you have to know the time and place.”
Deng scored a game-high 25 points and went 4 for 7 from the 3-point arc. More often, the Ramblers feasted in transition on a glut of turnovers by Serena, which coughed it up 20 times in the first half. The Ramblers led at halftime, 51-19.
Puou scored 20 points to go with seven rebounds and four blocked shots. The ball-hawking Odunewu scored 14 points despite missing all six of his free throws, while Okito scored nine points and Nyang grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots.
The regional’s top seed, Mooseheart has lost three times with its regular starters this season but Ahrens grudgingly indicated the IHSA considers his team 23-5 based on a pair of conference tournament games in which the Ramblers’ junior varsity players competed because of a scheduling conflict.
The Ramblers busted out new warmup shirts with the slogan “Play Angry” written on them. Ahrens was somewhat coy in saying there could be multiple motivations to adopt that slogan, but said the saying is a nod to college powerhouse Wichita State, which made the saying famous during its Final Four run last season. The Shockers have evaluated Mooseheart’s top players on the recruiting trail.
“Hey, they’re undefeated,” Ahrens said. “We’re jumping on their bandwagon.”