Sometimes, Dorothy is right. There is no place like home.
SLU has made their bones on the recruiting trail in recent years by focusing on the STL market, and they have hit again, bringing in Oregon transfer Francis Okoro. The 6’9” sophomore is a native of Normal, Illinois, but made his name in the AAU circuit as a member of the St. Louis based Brad Beal Elite program, playing alongside current Billikens Terrence Hargrove and Yuri Collins.
The move from Eugene to St Louis significantly cuts down the travel time to his family, which has been a point of concern for the one-time Illinois player of the year whose Father passed away last December.
In addition to the personal tragedy, Francis has been significantly hampered by injuries since his breakout freshmen year. Okoro was struck by a car in the years between his freshman and sophomore seasons and, despite his best efforts, was in and out of the lineup, constantly hampered by his injuries.
He will now look to sit a year as a redshirt to help nurse those injuries to perform like the budding star he was in his time in the Pac-12 when he returns. Traditionally he would have to sit a year regardless, and even with the potential on time transfer waiver on the horizon in the NCAA, he will take the 2020-2021 season off and look forward to the 2021-2022 season.
Okoro had his best season in 2018-2019 when he helped lead the Oregon Ducks to a Pac-12 tournament win and the Sweet 16. Winning two games in San Jose, the same regional location that SLU was in. Francis had been praised as a surprisingly positive locker room presence and on the court leader. While initially not the starting, or most notable Center on the team. After the injury to future NBA draft pick Bol Bol, Francis started 22 games and played a significant role on defense for the Ducks.
It is unclear in the immediate how the Billikens roster will shake out. While technically the Billikens still have another scholarship to fill with Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French declared for the draft, when they expectedly return to SLU in late May/ early June, the Billikens will be over the 13-scholarship limit.
So, the question becomes, who is the odd man out? The Occam’s razor answer to all this may be, one or both of the NBA prospects are staying in that draft pool and indeed are done at SLU. While it appears unlikely either of them may be draft picks, they may sign undrafted free agent deals. However unlikely that may seem, as neither have signed with agents or agencies and have intentionally done so to remain eligibility, it is possible.
Alternatively, the list of players who may leave SLU is short. Fred Thatch may have had a setback in terms of his health and is reconsidering his ability to play; however, that is simply speculation.
Demarius Jacobs ended the season on dubious terms, sitting out the final two games of the season on suspension for an unknown reason. While I’ve been assured that the issue has been sorted out, it certainly raises questions.
Madani Diarra is put in the most unusual situation of the bunch. The big man sat most of the season, both developing his skills and rehabbing a knee injury that limited his mobility. Now, the program has brought in two big men that will be at SLU for most or all Diarra’s tenure in St. Louis. The additions hardly point as a sign of confidence.
Regardless of who is in and who is out, Travis Ford and company don’t make decisions without understanding the long-term ramifications. Their plans extend far past the immediate. It’s clear there is something on the horizon and has been in the works for whichever player is leaving. Players often wait to enter the transfer portal until they have something substantial. It won’t surprise me in the least if a corresponding move comes very soon.
The Billikens added to their depth in the long term with the addition of Okoro. In theory, he is an excellent replacement for Hasahn French as the critical post player. The ceiling of the potential on the Billikens has been raised, and the long term window of competition with it.