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Oleka's breakout performance leads ASU men's basketball to blowout win against Kennesaw State

The junior college transfer excelled off the bench in the win

Junior forward Obinna Oleka (5) fights into the key against Kennesaw State on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Sun Devils took down the Owls 91-53.
Junior forward Obinna Oleka (5) fights into the key against Kennesaw State on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Sun Devils took down the Owls 91-53.

ASU mens basketball junior forward Obinna Oleka was nervous.

"I wanted to cry, man," Oleka said. "I knew that there was stuff that I could do on the court, I just didn't know why I wasn't doing it at the time."

The junior college transfer had not played a game since 2013, and had certainly never had success at the NCAA level. Through two games, he hadn't scored a single point.

Oleka broke through the rust for the first time Wednesday, totaling a team-best 19 points and six rebounds as ASU (2-1) dominated Kennesaw State (0-3) 91-53.

Wednesday's game marked the third time's the charm, as Oleka overcame early-season issues with foul trouble and uncertainly by putting together a breakout performance.

"I just needed to get my feet a little wet," Oleka said. "The first couple games, I was too anxious. Fouling and not playing well. But the third game here, I calmed down a little bit. I'm good now."

Oleka said he spent most of his time when not in games on the practice floor, trying to regain some of the flow that made him a top-rated junior college recruit despite not playing in all of 2014 due to academic reasons.

"It was one of the hardest times I've had in my life," Oleka said. "Just getting back into it, but at this level though. It wasn't like (junior college) again. It was Pac-12 basketball. Right here is it — the big stage."

Oleka's success Wednesday was spawned by coach Bobby Hurley's efforts to reinforce simplifying the game to its basic instinctual roots.

"Getting in the gym and talking to Hurley everyday," Oleka said."They told me, 'Just calm down. It's just basketball.' and I said alright, and it went from there."

Hurley said it was incredibly encouraging to see the emergence of Oleka off the bench given his early struggles.

"I was happy for Obi," Hurley said. "He's struggled his first two games and as a junior college guy that hasn't played in two years, he showed some things out there.

"With Obi, it's like he's trying to remember what we're doing on offense, where he needs to be on the floor, a whole new style of defense and where he needs to be. He was thinking a lot and not reacting as much. I just got a sense yesterday with how he practiced (that he would perform well)."

Oleka's play was part of an overall balanced offensive output for the Sun Devils, as he was one of four players to reach double figures in scoring. Senior guard Gerry Blakes, who led the team with 22 points against Belmont, was not one of them, instead finishing with eight points and a career-high 12 rebounds. 

"I think that is what I've been feeling since day one with the group," Hurley said. "I think we have numerous guys that have the potential to score in double figures and different options based on our opponent and how they're guarding us."

Blakes said he embraced his role as a distributor, going 3-for-5 on the floor but also serving as a defensive stopper, crashing the boards and helping to move the ball in the second half.

"It's a good job for me to just get everybody involved and try to be like (sophomore guard) Tra (Holder) and get some assists," Blakes said. "It all comes around. You don't have to pressure yourself to score. I was 0-for-2 in the first half, but I didn't really panic."

Oleka's emergence as a viable weapon for the Sun Devils Wednesday was just one of many highlights in the relatively easy blowout, but also had a bigger meaning — furthering Oleka's confidence and allowing him to continue his strong play going forward.

"I'm going to just build off of this for the next game, and we'll go on from there," he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.

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