St. Mary’s University Men’s Basketball star Johnpaul Okodua has etched his name into the Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference’s (ACAC) record books, becoming the all-time leading rebounder when he secured his 847th rebound of his career against the Augustana on December 2, 2023.
A far cry from the kid from Nigeria who grew up playing soccer and only discovered basketball later in life, Johnpaul has quickly cemented himself as one of the best players to ever suit up for the Lightning and one of the most dominant big men in ACAC history.
“Soccer was the sport that I started playing [during] my childhood days in Nigeria. I started playing basketball around 2016 when I was in university in Nigeria,” explained Johnpaul. “I was basically forced to love it by my teammates and professors as I had a growth spurt in my last years of high school and was told I was too tall not to learn basketball.”
“Now, I love the game so much thanks to the training from the coaches here at St. Mary’s, especially Abdell (Farag) and Nathan (Ruff), who have been with me during all my years here.”
Originally contacted by Johnpaul’s cousin in the spring 2017 and sent raw videos of a kid doing workouts on an outdoor court in Nigeria, Lightning Men’s Head Coach saw potential and athleticism and offered Johnpaul the opportunity to come be a part of the Lightning program.
“I’ll never forget the first day he came to a summer run, he was raw, and I think a little shocked with the pace and speed and talent,” explained Ruff. “We made the collective decision to redshirt him and talked about the work he would need to put in to be successful It is a very special thing to watch a player put trust in yourself as a coach and help guide them in their journey. I could not be more proud and grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with Johnpaul.”
“Johnpaul’s dedication to improving himself and his game is unmatched in my time as a coach. I’m very proud of the player and man that he has become. His impact to this program goes beyond the court and basketball. I’m excited to watch where his life takes him and the successes he has beyond basketball.”
Johnpaul has come a long way from watching from the sidelines as a redshirt freshman but remains the same humble, soft-spoken man he was when he first arrived at St. Mary’s and is quick to share credit of his success with those who have helped him get to this point in his career.
“Achieving this record means a lot to me keeping in mind that rebounding is directly proportional to the effort put into the game,” said Johnpaul. “To be the all-time ACAC rebounding leader is something I can be proud of but would not have been possible without the proper coaching of the whole coaching staff, efforts on and off the court by Abdell who trains me outside of practice, and my teammates who are wonderful brothers.”