Osasere Ighodaro backed up his defender on the perimeter.
Switching the ball to his right hand, he turned over the left shoulder, took a couple of dribbles and then threw down a ferocious dunk against Ahwatukee-rival Mountain Pointe.
It was among several highlight-reel plays that Ighodaro made during the Thunder’s surprisingly dominant 70-53 rout of the once-nationally ranked Pride.
The standing-room-only crowd, his teammates and seemingly everybody in the DV gym except the 6-foot-10 Desert Vista junior center erupted in celebration.
Ighodaro just turned around and ran back on defense.
This sort of non-verbal leadership has become commonplace for Ighodaro, who often has the same expressions and mannerisms whether his team is down 20 points or after a highlight play against a rival.
“He’s just a silent assassin,” said Thunder coach Gino Crump.
While he is not much of a talker and not the player that teammates look to for verbal motivation, Ighodaro’s play has made plenty of noise.
Ighodaro received multiple offers to play Division 1 basketball before his junior season began, and further success likely will bring him even more. Through 19 games, he averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots.
Ighodaro and the Thunder have a rematch with Mountain Pointe on Jan. 29 in the Pride’s gym.
While training year-round, it is not just his own skills and college recruiting that he’s working to improve.
“I just want to win a state championship for my seniors. That’s really all I care about right now,” Ighodaro said.
He cares deeply about those who came before him in the Desert Vista program, claiming they taught him much of what he knows about playing basketball. To this day, he regularly speaks with Thunder alumni, gathering advice for life on and off the court.
“They (alumni) love him. He’s a little brother to those guys,” Crump said.
That group of former players is hoping Ighodaro can be the anchor on a state-title team after the championship eluded the Thunder the last two seasons.
Before the season, those championship hopes seemed like a long shot for the Thunder. The entire DV starting-five from last season either graduated or transferred. That team reached the 6A semifinals and was an overtime away from the championship game.
“We weren’t even projected to get into the playoffs this year because we lost those guys,” Ighodaro said. “We’re underrated, so we just have a chip on our shoulder and we’re playing with that.”
Ighodaro is the one true big man left on a team of mostly guard-size players. He is Desert Vista’s only scary rim defender and low-post scoring threat.
Isaiah Wilson, a senior point guard for the Thunder, said that Ighodaro’s ability around the basket at both ends allows his teammates to play more aggressively and take more chances on the perimeter. They know he will be back there to clean up any mistakes.
On offense, Ighodaro’s presence allows teammates space on the perimeter to make efficient cuts or shoot jumpers.
“He makes my job so much easier,” Wilson said. “He’s always back there on defense to help us out and giving me somebody to give the ball to in the post and setting picks on offense.”
While Ighodaro’s value is clear on an 12-7 team battling for playoff seeding, Crump said that the next step is raising his center’s intensity.
Ighodaro likely never will be the one screaming in the huddle or giving impassioned speeches to teammates. That does not mean that he cannot continue to improve his aggressiveness and leadership on the court, though.
“He’s really coming into his own, just scratching the surface of what he can really be,” Crump said.