Finding a second home was high on the list of necessities for Celeste Akoro, the O’Fallon senior basketball standout who has settled her search for a college.
That place is the University of Buffalo.
An athletic 6-foot-3 post player and one of the top college basketball recruits in the St. Louis area, Akoro has given a verbal commitment to attend and play basketball for the Bulls beginning in the 2017-18 season.
“It’s a long way from home but I’m fine with that. It’s a great school where I will have the opportunity to grow as a person and basketball player,’’ Akoro said on Tuesday. “I felt comfortable with the coaching staff and the players made me feel welcomed. They told me I was their top recruit.
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“It was a tough decision because it was heartbreaking for me to have to tell the other coaches who were recruiting me and coaches that I had built a relationship with that I wouldn’t be coming to their schools. But Buffalo is the place I feel will be the best for my future.’’
Akoro, who also considered several other schools including Furman and Texas A & M. She made her final decision last Friday.
One person who has watched Akoro go from being a freshman with unlimited potential to a senior who should be one of the top post players in the state, is O’Fallon coach Ryan Massey. The Panthers veteran leader has never had a doubt Akoro would play at the NCAA Division I level.
“We’ve known all along that Celeste was an NCAA Division I talent. She’s been going through the recruiting process for the past three years by playing select ball with teams throughout the Midwest and going to different showcase events,’’ Massey said. “I’m just pleased that she has, first, been able to find a school in which she can go, be happy at and have a chance to play and, second, that she has made a decision before her senior year so that she can focus on our team and on her academics.”
A member of the Mid-American Conference, Buffalo is coached by Felisha Legette-Jack who led the Bulls to a 20-14 record and the league title a year ago. Buffalo lost to Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Akoro, who averaged 7 points, 6 rebounds and was second in the St. Louis area in blocked shots with 115 last season, was recruited as a combination power-forward/center by Buffalo.
“I’ve always played more center because I’ve always been the tallest player. But actually I enjoy playing a number of positions on the court,’’ Akoro said. “My AAU coach worked with me this summer on becoming more of a stretch 4 (power forward). I actually enjoy and have worked on handling the basketball and stepping out and working on my perimeter shot.
“The coaches have told me that where I play will depend on what combination of players are on the court. The opportunity for me to come in and play right away is there. It just depends on how hard I work.
With the pressure of the recruiting process gone, Akoro can look forward to a good senior season with the Panthers and getting ready for college basketball. O’Fallon is expected to be one of the top teams in the Southwestern Conference in 2016-17.
“We’re thinking we should have a good team. The key is working as a unit, not as individuals,” Akoro said. “As for me, I know I’ve got to get stronger and my dad and I have really worked on that more recently. We’re doing more work with more with weights and just trying to build me up.”
Massey said the Buffalo coaching staff will also look to make Akoro stronger in her early months on campus.
“It is an NCAA Division I program and she’s going to be well-coached. Plus, she’s going to have an opportunity to play early in her career,’’ Massey said. “Her first year is going to be a lot of weights and a lot of food. They’re going to want to get her bigger and stronger. They are going to challenge her, but I think she will reap the benefits of it. I think she will tremendously as a basketball play and an athlete her first year.’’