Kenneth Ogbe: ‘a team-first guy’

Optimized-S-Moops copy Colby Patterson
Kenneth Ogbe muscles past UCLA defender Norman Powell at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. Photo by Chris Ayers.

Kenneth Ogbe muscles past UCLA defender Norman Powell at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. Photo by Chris Ayers.

At the press conference following Saturday’s 74-69 victory over UCLA, seldom-used freshman guard Kenneth Ogbe drew a laugh. Fresh off scoring 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting, Ogbe was asked if he had been waiting for his opportunity to shine.

“Yeah,” Ogbe said with a smile. “Who’s not?”

Back in October, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said he was hoping to have his rotation be eight or nine players deep. Guards Brandon Taylor and Delon Wright, along with forward Jordan Loveridge have started every game this season. Forwards Dakarai Tucker and Princeton Onwas are regular rotation players, and a combination of big men Jeremy Olsen, Dallin Bachynski and Renan Lenz have held down the center position.

That ninth rotation spot has given multiple players a chance to prove their worth. On Saturday, it was Ogbe’s turn, and his play had everyone smiling.

“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid,” Krystkowiak said following the victory. “The entire locker room is off the charts with enthusiasm for him.”

Upon meeting Ogbe, it’s easy to see why his teammates are happy for him. The young man visibly glows. At the team’s media day, he was the only one who was constantly smiling and introducing himself to reporters he didn’t even recognize.

Following some tough losses last week in Washington, Ogbe was seen carrying training bags and other equipment up to the team’s locker room. He truly is a team first guy.

Ogbe came to Utah via Germany where he played for Urspring, one of the top prep teams in Deutschland. During his time there, he met Virgil Matthews, who played under Krystkowiak while at the University of Montana. Through Matthews, a connection with Krystkowiak and Utah was made.

Soon after, Ogbe was named MVP of the Arby’s Classic, a high school basketball tournament that features some of the stronger teams in America. Led by Ogbe’s performance, Urspring became the first non-U.S. team to win the tournament in its history. This in turn resulted in Ogbe being heavily recruited by the Utes.

Growing up in Germany, Ogbe began his athletic career like many European youngsters do — playing soccer. But with a nudge from his older brother, 13-year-old Ogbe grew to know the hardwood. A growth spurt allowed him to start having big basketball dreams.

“I started growing when I was 15,” Ogbe said. “I wasn’t really tall at the beginning.”

After Ogbe grew, a call from Urspring coach Michael Speoker convinced him he might have a future in basketball.

After Saturday’s performance, that future may have arrived. Not only was he perfect from the field, hitting shots to stop UCLA runs, but he also provided solid defense against some of the conference’s best athletes.

“My dream was always wanting to play college basketball,” Ogbe said. “I always talked about this.”

Ogbe is thankful for his opportunity, but knows he must continue to work hard in practice to see an increase in playing time.

“Coach lets us know how we practice,” Ogbe said. “It really depends on practice, how hard you practice, how well you practice, how much you play.”

From what his coach has had to say about his practice habits, it doesn’t seem unrealistic for Ute fans to soon get well-acquainted with Ogbe.

“It’s hard to put freshmen on the floor, but he’s been bringing it in practice consistently with a smile on his face,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s a great example of a kid who stays with it, is presented with an opportunity and comes through.”

r.miller@chronicle.utah.edu