Aug. 20, 2008
Redbird All-Access members, watch Champ Oguchi's full interview (30 questions) on Redbird All-Access, your exclusive home to full student-athlete video interview's during this summer's "thirtysomething" series.
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GoRedbirds.com: You have been on campus at ISU for nearly one year now. Describe to Redbird fans what it is like to go through a transfer year. What have been the most rewarding and difficult parts of the process?
Champ Oguchi: The most rewarding part, I would have to say, is sitting and being able to watch and learn the game of basketball from a different perspective. Having to see the chance to see guys like Boo (Richardson) and (Anthony) Slack demonstrate the amount of work they put in, and see it pay off, was pretty rewarding. It's an eye opener, so I enjoyed that part of my transfer year. The difficult part is no more than the obvious; that you don't get to play with your teammates out there. I really missed competing, getting out there on the court with my teammates, and getting lost in the game. I really wanted to be able to play against the top-quality competition we were competing against.
GR: When making the decision to transfer from Oregon, what stood out about ISU as an option to finish your college basketball career?
CO: Well, I looked at a lot of different factors. I looked at facilities, personnel and the coaching staff. I knew (head coach) Tim Jankovich from before as a player, so that really helped with my decision. Coming from Oregon, a lot of things about ISU were similar, especially in style of play. So Tim Jankovich offered me a lot of things, and Illinois State University offered me a lot of what I was looking for.
GR: So where did your connection to Tim Jankovich start before your arrival to Normal?
CO: Well, coach Jank has been watching me play basketball ever since I was about 150 pounds. He recruited a lot of the players from the Houston area when he was an assistant coach at Kansas. A lot of the people I knew were familiar with him, so when he was named head coach at Illinois State, it really helped my decision (to transfer to ISU).
GR: From your seat on the home bench last season, what were your first-year impressions of the competitiveness of the Missouri Valley Conference? How does it compare to the competition in the Pac-10?
CO: My first impression of the Valley was "wow, these guys really get after it." It is a little more physical than the style in the Pac-10; it's a bit more scrappier, and you really have to work for what you get. That definitely differs from the Pac-10, because even though the guys are a little more athletic (in the Pac-10), in this league, each possession is more valuable.
GR: At last season's Redbird Hoopfest, you gave fans a taste of your athleticism with an electric contest-ending dunk, when you leaped over Boo Richardson, Emmanuel Holloway and Alex Rubin. Was that the first dunk contest you have ever competed in?
CO: No, it actually wasn't. I was in a dunk contest in high school, and also in one at Oregon in a similar situation.
GR: So, do you have anything up your sleeve for this season's Hoop Fest yet?
CO: Haha; no, I don't have anything up my sleeve yet. We have some great leapers in our freshman class this year, so they may give Osiris (Eldridge) and me a run for our money, so we'll see. I'm excited about it.
GR: Your situation is obviously unique in that you will be only playing one season in Normal, as you enter your senior season this year. How anxious are you to get the season underway, and is there a sense of urgency to build on last season's success right away?
CO: There is a sense of urgency; I'm really excited to get things going. As for playing for only one year, I would say that college is a great experience. Like any other college student, my journey has to end after next season. You know, I'm ready for it. I want to go out and lead this team, and do what I am going to be expected to do. The sense of urgency comes from wanting to build on what was accomplished last year. Those guys really set the bar and standards pretty high; not only for the team, but for the community. A lot of people have high expectations. But as I said, we are ready; guys like myself, (Brandon) Holtz, (Brandon) Sampay, (Emmanuel) Holloway, and a lot of the other guys, are ready to take on that challenge.
GR: What is a personal goal of yours that does not relate to basketball??
CO: I want to be a 4.0 student. Education can take you a long way.
GR: Both of your parents are from Nigeria. You were born in the US, but you have citizenship in Nigeria too. What does it mean to you to be a citizen in both countries?
CO: It's a great honor to have citizenship in two countries. From time to time, I get to go back to Nigeria. As you know, I played for the Nigerian national team, which was a great opportunity. Dinma (Odiakosa) has dual citizenship also, so he and I talk about things a lot. We share a lot of stories.
GR: Last year was definitely a unique season in the Valley with Illinois State and Drake surprising a lot of people by shifting the power in the league. Which visiting Valley team impressed when you saw them at Redbird Arena?
CO: Well, first of all, I'm a competitor, so it's really hard to say that any one team impressed me playing against my team. But Drake really showed me a lot with the way they could shoot the ball, and the way they spread the floor. But as a competitor, for me, you have to really show a lot to impress me.
GR: You were voted the best dressed ISU student-athlete by the Daily Vidette last year. Where did you get your fashion sense?
CO: Well, that's a great question, a lot of people ask that. It actually all started when I lived with my old Oregon roommate, Bryce Taylor. He is the one that kind of showed me the ropes. When I came in (at Oregon), I didn't have as much fashion sense, or wasn't as fashion-inclined. But he (Bryce) taught me a few tricks; and I've tried to take a few pages from his book, and then make it my own style.
GR: Where did you get the nickname Champ from?
CO: It all started with my high school coach from George Bush High School. One day in practice, he came up to me and said "Chamberlain is too long, can we just call you Champ?!" I said "sure coach, why not?!" and from that day, it just stuck.
GR: You will obviously add some valuable scoring opportunities to the Redbirds this season, but you will also be playing alongside a prolific scorer in Osiris Eldridge. What is the biggest thing about his game that impresses you?
CO: The most impressive thing about his game is how he makes it look so effortless. He's very sneaky in his approach, but his biggest advantage is that he is very agile and athletic. It's going to be great playing alongside Osiris, because if teams become focused on me or any of our other guys offensively, he is going to do his part to pick us up. You need guys that can quietly get the job done every night and give you some consistency.
GR: You were honored with the Will Robinson Endowed Scholarship this summer. What did it mean to be associated with the late coach Robinson's name?
CO: Well, it's a great honor. I'm certainly not making light of it at all, and am proud to be associated with his name. He set the bar for a lot of players and coaches around the country, and a lot of us wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for him. He was a pioneer of the game.
GR: Coach Jankovich comes from a great pedigree, and that was proved last March when Kansas made a run to the national championship? What is the biggest thing he has taught you in your time at ISU?
CO: Coach Jankovich has taught me a lot, not only about things on the court, but off the court as well. The biggest thing he has taught me is that you don't always have to play `by the book.' You can change things up a little bit, but also play the right way. He has also taught me how to play some defense! He would love to hear me say that.
GR: A lot of local college basketball fans felt pretty slighted last season when ISU was left out of the NCAA Tournament despite making a run to the championship game of the Valley Tournament and finishing second in the regular-season. How much does that fuel the fire to get to the Big Dance this season?
CO: It fuels a big fire. As I watched those guys on Selection Sunday, and saw the disappointment on their faces, I told myself that I want to be able to make this up to them ... especially the guys that weren't going to be playing for us anymore. Being a Redbird and practicing with those guys, I saw how hard they worked. Guys like Boo Richardson, (Anthony) Slack, Dom (Johnson), Levi (Dyer) and Jube (Julius Moor) are going to be proud of this team this year, and they left a lasting impression here.
GR: We interviewed Landon Shipley earlier this summer, and he spoke of the advantages of sitting out his transfer year with you. How did you and Ship make each other better during the process?
CO: Well, it was good, because `Ship' and I were able to have someone else there to get through the experience. It was also good for me, because I would always get stuck rebounding for him when we were working out before or after practice. He's such a good shooter, that the ball would either go in, or his misses would be so close that they would be long rebounds for me, so I wouldn't have to run around too much! He made it easy on me, because I'm always floating around out there anyway.
GR: The Redbirds will have eight newcomers this season, and a lot of which will be getting a significant amount of playing time immediately. How much of a challenge will it be for the new players to mesh into the system and be comfortable playing at this level?
CO: I think how quickly they get out there and start playing all depends on their maturity. Naturally, freshmen aren't going to be as mature as they would be as juniors or seniors. So that development is going to come from within, the coaches and us, their teammates. It really is going to come down to how willing they are going to be to buy into the system and how willing they are to work hard.
GR: What was it like growing up with two older sisters?
CO: It actually wasn't that easy. I definitely learned a lot about women and their attitudes, that's for sure. But it's great. Both of my older sisters are in grad school, one at Cornell and the other at Seton Hall. They kind of took the brains out of the family, so I am trying to follow in their footsteps.
GR: So is that where the 4.0 GPA aspirations come into play?
CO: Yeah, exactly. It all starts with them.
GR: What did the senior leadership of ISU's five seniors mean to the team's success last season? Will that be difficult to replace?
CO: It's definitely going to be difficult to replace. Those guys did a great job, and you could see that they really wanted to win in their last year at Illinois State. This year's seniors really have to meet that challenge, and lead this team back to the success it had last year, and even higher. So, I think replacing their leadership will be a task, but our veteran guys all want it bad enough that it is something we can overcome.
GR: The USA Basketball team has had a pretty easy time in pool play thus far in the Olympics. You have experience playing the international game. What do you think of the U.S.'s chances when it enters the actual tournament?
CO: I think they are going to win the gold. The United States has the best players in the country, and when you can turn to guys like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, there are not too many starting fives that can compete with that. The USA's athleticism is at another level, and I saw that first hand. We actually almost had a chance to play against them when I was playing for the Nigerian national team. It didn't pan out, but I remember us talking about if we lost by 20 points or less, it would have been a good game for us. I expect the USA to win gold.
GR: Who do you think would be the toughest player in the NBA to guard for 40 minutes?
CO: Kobe Bryant, without a doubt.
GR: Not Lebron? Doesn't his size make him tougher to guard? Why Kobe over Lebron?
CO: Why Kobe over Lebron? Because I think Kobe is more skilled than Lebron, and has the ability to take over a game better than Lebron does. Lebron is ridiculously athletic, and set the standard when it comes to athleticism and flash. But Kobe is a better scorer with less flash.
GR: You are a gifted shooter, having set some pretty impressive Pac-10 three-point records in your days at Oregon. Do you believe the three-point line getting pushed back one-foot will affect you at all? Why or why not?
CO: No, it won't affect pure shooters, because most of those guys have been shooting at that distance, or further back, most of their lives anyway. I am one of those guys that has been shooting beyond that line regularly, so for guys like `Ship,' (Landon Shipley), (Brandon) Holtz and myself, I don't think it will affect us much at all.
GR: You talked a little bit about Dinma earlier. Speaking of him, he may be one of the most underrated big men in the Valley, especially with the way he seemed to improve each game out last season. How important is he going to be to the Redbirds' success this season?
CO: Dinma is going to be really important in the post for us this season. Brandon Sampay, as you know, is out with an injury right now, along with Bobby Hill, so that limits us a bit in the frontcourt. Some of the freshmen can definitely help us out down there as well, but Dinma is our workhorse.
GR: They say everything is better in Texas. What do you enjoy most about your hometown of Houston?
CO: What I enjoy AND miss most, without a doubt, is the home cooking. My mom is a great chef. I also miss seeing my entire family, particularly my brother.
GR: A new defensive mentality was a large reason why ISU turned the corner last season, and was able to win a school-record 25 games. Is defense more about effort, or is there a significant physical element to it?
CO: I think defense is definitely more about effort. If you work hard out there, 99 percent of the time, you are going to do a pretty solid job on defense. It's all about will; you have to want to defend every day in practice. That is one of the major things coach Jankovich preaches - when you give that effort on the defensive end, everything else tends to fall into place.
GR: Give us one name of a Redbird newcomer that you see making a surprising season that will help ISU achieve its goals.
CO: I would say Kellen Thornton. He is one of those guys that is very athletic, but has an element to his game that can cause some problems for opponents. There is not as much flash in his game, but he really gets the job done and makes things look easy. To me, he reminds me a lot of Rudy Gay. He can step back and shoot the ball, but can also take you down low and rebound.
GR: Last question ... Finish this sentence for me: It will be a successful 2008-09 basketball season at Illinois State IF ...
CO: If we make the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully win a couple of games when we get there. That would make our season a success.