Springwood's Francis Okeyia waits for play to resume during the Wildcats' home game against Edgewood on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Francis Okeyia’s basketball journey has taken him from the United Kingdom to the Pacific Northwest to Springwood. Now, that journey has a college basketball court has found its next destination.

Okeyia committed to Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, on Saturday. The 6-foot-5, 180-pound forward joins the NAIA program after a stellar year as part of the Wildcats’ program.

“There were a lot of things that convinced me that (Brescia) was the right place for me,” Okeyia said. “The way they recruited me stood out among the other schools. They were persistent and were always watching my highlight tapes and contacting either myself or (Springwood coach Lisa Ciampi-Sampson). They also play a lot of very good teams, teams like Murray State and JSU. I love competing against the best and they play the best, so it really was a no-brainer when it came to that.

“I really didn’t expect to come this far playing basketball when I first started. I used to always see players committing, and I always wanted to do the same. when I had, I was overwhelmed.”

From UK to USA

Okeyia’s path to becoming a college basketball player is far from your typical story.

Okeyia originally attended a public school in the UK and played basketball on the school’s team at what he considered more of a leisurely level. That, however, changed when he joined a club team — equivalent to an AAU team in the United States — and the competition and success pushed him to get better.

Okeyia and his club team teammates played in a summer tournament in Oregon prior to his junior year, which led to him enrolling in St. Mary’s High School in Medford, Oregon, where he averaged 11 points and eight rebounds per game. He wanted something different for his senior season, and after talking to Ann Hixon, the director of Springwood’s international student program, he was bound for Chambers County.

Okeyia admitted he was worried about settling in with a new team and at another new school, but luckily those issues never occurred.

“Being the new guy, I was worried about not having that chemistry with my teammates because I’m used to a different style of basketball and they are probably used to a different style as well. But I was worried for no reason because everyone here was just so welcoming and nice,” Okeyia said. “It feels like one big family. Everyone looks out for everyone like they are their own, and that’s probably what I love the most about Springwood and this place. It’s one big family.”

‘A lot of upside’

Okeyia certainly never looked like he was uncomfortable when he was out on the court for the Wildcats. He was downright dominant for the AISA program, as he averaged 19.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. His stellar play led to him being an All-Area first team selection and an All-State third team selection.

Ciampi-Simpson took over as Springwood’s coach not long after Okeyia arrived. By that point she said he had already established himself as a leader, and once the season got going it was evident he could be someone the team could rely on.

“You’ve got to have a special personality to be able to come in as a senior and have those guys look up to you and be a part of their group. He most certainly was,” Ciampi-Sampson said. “I think with Francis, the first thing you see is just his pure athleticism. He can play probably at the college level either a stretch four or a three, so that flexibility being a bigger guy and being able to handle the ball just gives him so many different opportunities at the next level.

“I think coaches were drawn — he had a lot of schools looking at him — just by his athleticism and look forward to seeing what he can do once this school gets him in the weight room and a conditioning program. He has a lot of upside.”

Okeyia said his favorite moment from last season came when he and the Wildcats took down Chambers Academy at home after he initially missed the teams’ first meeting due to Thanksgiving.

He thanked the people he stayed with at the school’s international house as well as his teachers and coaches for teaching him so much and preparing him for this next step.

Okeyia faced a long road as he pursued playing basketball at the next level, and it eventually led him to Springwood. With his time as a Wildcat now over, he’s eager to get settled in at Brescia as he tries to reach his full potential.

“I’m looking forward to getting into the gym, competing with my teammates, working with a great coach, playing against good teams and just getting better as an athlete. I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near the best I can be, and I’m hoping at Brescia I can come close to that,” Okeyia said. “I’m very excited. I can’t wait to live the college life. It’s going to be challenging considering how independent college is, but I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward to it.”

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