Ukiomogbe leads Reds into BPSN consolation finals
When Mike Ukiomogbe’s family emigrated to Canada from Nigeria in 2015, he spoke very little English.
The Grade 11 student at Denis Morris made himself a home in his new country by frequenting outdoor basketball courts in Toronto and Burlington before his family settled in St. Catharines.
“Basketball was my way to make friends and that is the way I communicated with people,” the 16-year-old said Wednesday, after helping the Denis Morris Reds defeat the Saint Paul Patriots 74-45 in the consolation semifinals of the BPSN Best of Niagara Boys Basketball Tournament.
Ukiomogbe didn’t start playing organized basketball until his Grade 9 year at Denis Morris and then he lost his Grade 10 season to the COVID-19 pandemic
“I wasn’t very good. I was just tall and my coach in school told me to watch tall centres (on TV) and pay attention to their footwork and everything,” the 6-foot-5 220 pounder said. “I just tried to learn the game from different players.”
Ukiomogbe is clearly a work in progress. He sets punishing screens, he rebounds like crazy but he struggles at time to score inside the paint.
“At first, I was working on my finishing all through the summer but then after a while I kind of got lazy and I stopped a bit,” he said. “On the court you can see I don’t finish that great but I am working on it.”
Denis Morris coach Michael Doodeman feels there is a solution to that.
“I think improved finishing goes with confidence because some games he is unstoppable and other games he is not fully confident to go up every time with the ball,” he said. “He need to practice his shot under the net all summer.”
Doodeman enjoys having Ukiomogbe on his roster.
“He is very coachable, he is there at every practice, he tries his hardest and he is alway listening. He is only in Grade 11 and next year is going to be a really good year for him.”
Ukiomogbe also plays tight end and defensive end for the Denis Morris football team.
“Honestly I would say that football is easier for me but I love playing basketball,” he said.
The Reds built their lead steadily throughout the game.
“It was a good game and I think our post play is where we won the game,” Doodeman said. “Mike was strong and once we started giving him the ball the game turned in our favour.”
Saint Paul saw their high school season come to an end with the loss.
“It was kind of as tough game. We played with some good energy but we didn’t score. We always have trouble scoring,” Saint Paul head coach Colin McLeod said. “We tried to throw a few things at them. We ran a 1-3-1 which helped and slowed them down a little bit in the first half. But they have some pretty good players, they made some good baskets and they out-rebounded us.”
McLeod was happy to see his team get a few more games in before shutting it down.
“Our kids had fun playing more games and getting some action. Because of the way the season went it was good to play a few more games.”
Reds 74 Patriots 45
Cat’s Caboose Player of the Game: Denis Morris’ Mike Ukiomogbe with 12 points and double digit rebounds
For the Denis Morris Reds: Max Barnowski 19; Dylan Maltby 13; Ukiomogbe 12; Josh Kaufman 11; Campbell Hastings 8; Carson Mechelse 5; Josh Matthew 4; Ben Vreeken 2.
For the Saint Paul Patriots: Jack Busch 9; Carter Yott 8; Daniel Szuffranowicz 8; Davion Gordon 7; Geordie D’Amario 7; Elijah Pappin 3; Dante De Benedetti 2; Joey Williams 1.
Up next: Denis Morris advances to the consolation finals Friday at 4:30 p.m. at St. Catharines Collegiate.