ALLEGANY – Amadi Ikpeze is starting to throw his considerable size and weight around for the St. Bonaventure basketball team.
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound freshman from Amherst High School gave the Bonnies a spark off the bench for a third straight game Wednesday.
The Bonnies scored a 70-55 victory over St. Louis to keep their hold on fifth place in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference.
Ikpeze produced six points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in 23 minutes. He barely played in Bona’s seven games in January. But over the past three games, he has averaged 20 minutes, six points and five rebounds.
“Amadi’s really coming along,” said St. Bona coach Mark Schmidt. “He’s really giving us a lift. He had two shots and a put-back that was a big play. He’s rebounding. . . . He’s physical inside. He’s one of the reasons why we won today.”
It doesn’t take a basketball genius these days to see Ikpeze has a load of potential. He has a body built for low-post dominance, runs the floor well and he’s developing a touch around the basket.
All three of his field goals came in a 17-2 run over the final 6:10 that sealed the Bona win. Ikpeze hit a 7-foot jump hook from the baseline. He canned a 15-foot jumper. Then he used his wide body to get position and get a rebound tip-in to put Bona ahead, 61-53.
The jump hook was a smooth low-post move that showed his increasing confidence.
“It’s Kevin McHale,” deadpanned Schmidt.
Apparently, Ikpeze’s ability wasn’t so obvious 18 months ago, after he finished his high school junior season. He didn’t make first-team, second-team or honorable mention All-Western New York. He didn’t even make first-team in his seven-school, Erie County division.
Ikpeze held offers from Canisius, Stony Brook, Kent State and Quinnipiac after his junior season. That summer he played AAU ball for the first time, which helped his development. Schmidt scouted him for the first time in a couple 6 a.m. workouts at Amherst in the fall of his senior year. Bona offered a scholarship, the only one he got from an A-10 school.
“I thought about waiting but talking to my parents, they felt it was close to home, an hour and a half away,” Ikpeze said. “And one of the reasons I came here was Bob Lanier was from Buffalo. So I said why not set a goal, a dream for myself, to be a great player here.”
Becoming great may still be a dream, but it’s not a fantasy. Schmidt and his staff have had success developing big men.
“He’s gotten better from the first day he got here to now,” Schmidt said. “He’s a different player. His body’s getting better, he’s in better shape. He’s learning. To me it’s just the tip of the iceberg. He’s going to be a really good player if he continues to have that work ethic. You can’t teach that body, and the body’s going to get better. That body fat he has right now is going to turn into muscle. Once it does, we’re going to have a really good player.”
If Ikpeze can keep it up, Bona will have a much-needed low-post presence on defense for the stretch run of the A-10 schedule. Ikpeze’s offensive flashes tend to be eye-popping. Early in the overtime of Saturday’s game, Ikpeze took a pass in the high post and blew past Virginia Commonwealth star Mo Alie-Cox for a layup. Then he let out a roar at the bleachers, to the delight of the student section.
“I just want to practice hard every day, pay attention and don’t waste a day,” he said. “I feel like that helps with my confidence. It translates to the game. If I do it every day in practice, why can’t I do it in the game?”
St. Louis, the lowest-scoring team in the A-10, fell to 8-16 and 3-8. The Billikens held a 32-26 halftime lead, as Bona endured a poor offensive first half. But Bona’s defense held St. Louis to 1 of 13 shooting from three-point range in the second half.
A crowd of 3,763 saw Bona get 20 points from guard Jaylen Adams and 19 from junior guard Matt Mobley. Senior forward Denzel Gregg had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Bona visits George Washington Saturday.