MARCH 13, 2011: BACK IN THE DANCE Steve Lavin couldn't...

Steve Lavin couldn't help but smile when answering questions at the New York Athletic Club about his team's No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After nine years away from the Big Dance, St. John's returned in Lavin's first year as coach to face No. 11 Gonzaga. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Chris Obekpa thinks of St.John’s as his “home away from home”.

The Our Savior New American shot-blocking sensation added to coach Steve Lavin’s latest recruiting class Monday as he made a verbal commitment to St. John’s.

“I’m excited that the decision has been made and the stress is over. St. John’s really appealed to me because it’s close to home, my home-away-from-Nigeria,” said Obekpa. “I’m excited to have my former teammate, Felix Balamou, at St. John’s so we can play together again.”

The 6-9, 220-pound forward, who averaged 12 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks playing against a national schedule, is expected to bring a lot to the table.

“He’s one of the premier defensive players in the country,” said Our Savior New American coach Eric Jacklitsch. “He’s a great shot blocker and really pounds the glass. He’s also an underrated passer.”

There were several schools in the mix for Obekpa’s services. The Nigerian native took his time with his selection.

“It was a lengthy process,” said Jacklitsch. “A lot of schools tried to push his decision. St. John’s made it clear they wanted Chris, but they gave him his space.”

Being able to play in close proximity to his high school and St. John’s dedication to his recruitment played a major part in his decision.

Said Obekpa: “Coach Lavin and I have a great relationship, and Coach Dunlap and the other coaches stayed with me and came to see me all the way through last season, too.”

For any fan not familiar with Our Savior New American, it’s a private Christian school located in Centereach. The school doesn’t play against any Nassau or Suffolk public schools, but does play a loaded schedules against regional and national powerhouses like Red Lion Christian Academy (DE), Master’s (CT) and Christian Faith Center Academy (DC).  

Our Savior New American went 25-5 last season. The lengthy schedule has played an important role in the development of its players.

“Playing the schedule we play prepares them for the rigors and travel of college basketball,” said Jaklitsch. “We play in big time events and big time arenas.”

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