Pats star Ochie shines in return vs. Rams

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SYLVESTER --It was one of those dunks, the kind you remember -- emphatic with a message; the kind of dunk that comes with its own exclamation point.

But Onochie Ochie didn't need any punctuation.

His presence was the exclamation point.

"Ochie's back! Ochie's back,'' shouted a Westover fan after watching Ochie open Tuesday's game against Worth County with a two-handed jam that rocked the gym and sent reverberations across Southwest Georgia -- or at least as far as the Monroe gym.

Westover, ranked seventh in the last AAA boys basketball state poll and No. 3 in The Herald's Top 5, meets the state and- Herald's top-ranked Monroe Tornadoes on Friday in a game every hoops fan in this part of the state is already talking about.

That game is even bigger now with the return of Ochie, who came back with a 19-point, nine-rebound night that included two blocks, four dunks, two steals and two assists in Westover's 83-67 victory Tuesday night.

"He's a great player,'' Worth County boys basketball coach Arthur Davis said. "Unfortunately, he had to make his debut against us.''

Ochie hasn't played since leaving Westover in an ambulance Jan. 8. He fell and hit his head on the floor in the opening minutes of Westover's loss to Monroe, and also injured his right shoulder. He was released later the night, but wasn't cleared to start practicing again until last week.

"It was about a month, but it felt like months,'' said Ochie, whose monster dunk came 40 seconds into Tuesday's game. "It was killing me, eating me up inside to have to sit out and not be able to play.

"I was so nervous (Tuesday night), real nervous. This is the most nervous I have been since I started my first varsity game when I was a sophomore. When I went out there for the jump ball, my heart was really beating.''

Then everything went back to normal.

"After that first dunk, (the butterflies were gone). That dunk felt great. Starting off with that dunk just added more excitement,'' he added.

They're also pretty excited at Westover at the return of Ochie, a Herald Super 6er who has already signed with Southeast Louisiana.

"He makes us a different team,'' said Westover coach Dallis Smith, whose team is undefeated this season when Ochie has played the entire game. The Patriots are 18-3, but all three losses came during Ochie's absence.

"I can't tell you how happy I am that he is back,'' Westover's Chris Wheeler said. "It's unexplainable.''

Wheeler and Ochie combined to score 40 points, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots.

"What a combo,'' Ochie said.

Wheeler agreed

"Just call us the dynamic duo,'' said Wheeler, who had a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) to go with one block and three steals. Wheeler was still talking about one of Ochie's blocks after the game -- one that left the gym buzzing early in the second quarter.

"It sounded like he knocked all the air out of the ball,'' Wheeler said.

The game didn't knock the wind out of Ochie, who never looked winded. He played a little more than 21 minutes, and opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back dunks that lifted Westover to a 68-49 lead. He left with 5:05 left in the game with Westover leading 76-57.

"He looked like he was in better shape than I thought he would be,'' Smith said. "He has been running suicides on his own to get ready to play.''

Ochie not only ran the floor well, but after a few of his jumpers rimmed out, he started to find his shooting touch. He finished the night shooting 50 percent (9-for 18) and went 4 for 6 from the field in the second half. At 6-foot-6, Ochie has the versatility to step outside and nail the short to mid-range jumper as well as being able to slam home dunks.

"He brings a lot to the table,'' Smith said. "We're different when he is in there because he gives you something else to have to worry about. Did we miss him, yeah.''

And when he opened the game with a dunk?

"When he did that, I just sat there and said 'Ochie's back.''

Worth was led by Josh Alford's 18 points, followed by Jatavius Rockwell's 14 points as the Rams fell to 5-16, 2-8.