High School Football

Osabuohien’s effort energizing everyone around him for WVU


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sometimes, basketball grants the perfect marriage of program and player — the type of guys that could probably succeed anywhere, but you can only picture them in one place.

West Virginia has seen phenomenon this before.

Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were custom-fit Mountaineers, and a decade before that one would be hard-pressed to find a better avatar for West Virginia basketball at the time than Kevin Pittsnogle.

There have been others, of course, but the point is it takes a certain type to fit that mold.

Ironically, the latest player to fit that billing did start his career elsewhere.

Gabe Osabuohien was an Arkansas Razorback for the first two years of his career. But just half a season into his West Virginia career, he’s making it difficult to conceive of him as anything but a Mountaineer. A full-blown love fest is breaking out for the versatile forward at WVU Coliseum, which is where you need to be to best understand why that’s the case.

Prior to his five-assist performance against TCU, the analytics site kenpom.com classified Osabuohien in its lowest echelon of player — “Nearly Invisible.”

That’s no fault of a well-respected site, which for the record has the Mountaineers rated as the No. 5 team in the country and favored to win every game the rest of the way outside of their trip to Baylor. It’s more about Osabuohien’s game being too nuanced for the computers to calculate beyond his paltry 1.8-point scoring average.

Even in an era of increasingly accurate analytics, Osabuohien is evidence that the draw of sports continues to be the humans playing them.

His game is a culmination of the little things. Whether it’s coincidence or not, the Toronto native plays basketball with the same sensibility as a hockey defenseman.

Osabuohien leads the Mountaineers in charges drawn. One of his signature moments this season was when he tried to coax a referee into calling a charge against the Horned Frogs rather than a travel with less than a second remaining in the first half.

“I like my charges, and I definitely wanted that one,” Osabuohien said. “They called a travel. But a stop’s a stop. I’ll take it.”

Osabuohien is also the team’s leader in defensive deflections. Sometimes they result in steals; sometimes they don’t. But they always disrupt the flow of the opposing offense.

No one is keeping stats for floor burns, but there seems little question that Osabuohien is also leading the Mountaineers in that category too.

West Virginia forward Gabe Osabuohien (3) and Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell (32) fight for the ball during the first half at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“He’s always looking to dive on the floor, go for loose balls, rebound, communicate between the point guard and the bigs,” said WVU power forward Derek Culver. “It’s never about himself. It’s always about someone else.”

That’s why there’s little surprise Osabuohien received a standing ovation from the Coliseum crowd when he checked out of the game midway through the second half despite going scoreless in 17 minutes on the floor.

“To have the crowd cheering me for getting defensive stops, it means a lot,” Osabuohien said. “It fuels me more to be the best defender I can be.”

He ended up throwing down an emphatic dunk and made a free throw later on, but in the eyes of his adoring audience his work had already been done.

“You need guys like that who don’t really care about scoring,” Culver said. “They just want to go out there and take care of business for the team.”

Osabuohien is not seeking to be this team’s spark plug, but he can’t deny that it’s true.

“I don’t really see myself [as a spark]. I just try to come in and play as hard as I can,” he said. “It may be that way. But when I play as hard as I can, and my teammates see that and play at the same intensity level, it’s a beautiful thing. I just love it.”

WVU-TCU postgame video recap

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