SALT LAKE CITY — Utah guard Kenneth Ogbe doesn’t seem to be having much trouble with the curve — the learning curve, that is. The freshman from Germany appears to be adjusting well, especially in big games.
Ogbe scored 12 points and hit all four shots he took from the field and both free throws he attempted in Utah’s 74-69 win over 25th-ranked UCLA on Jan. 18. In Sunday’s 65-56 loss at No. 1 Arizona, Ogbe hit two 3-pointers. The second one gave the Utes the lead with 11:04 remaining.
“When he’s given an opportunity to play in some of these big games he’s jumping up and making shots,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “He’s doing a nice job defensively, and he’s a guy that’s certainly earned more minutes on our squad and becoming part of our rotation.”
Krystkowiak added that it’s easy to forget that Ogbe is not only a freshman, but also from a foreign country.
“He’s got language barriers and cultural barriers and all kinds of things that he’s dealing with,” Krystkowiak said. “But I think he’s got a tremendous future and it’s really nice to see him making some plays.”
Ogbe, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 188 pounds, is still establishing himself as Utah (14-6, 3-5) prepares for Saturday’s game at Colorado (15-6, 4-4). He’s appeared in 17 games and is averaging 3.8 points in just under 10 minutes of action.
“I’d be lying if I tried to tell you that it’s been completely smooth for him. I think any time you have a freshman in the program there’s a little bit of a learning curve for him,” Krystkowiak said. “He hasn’t been playing basketball that long. I believe it’s four or five years that he’s been playing. So he’s growing.”
Krystkowiak noted that the athletic Ogbe is gaining more confidence and becoming a “whole bunch better” as a defensive player. Krystkowiak described him as a gamer who is eager to learn.
The latter has proven beneficial in Ogbe’s transition to college basketball. Teammate Jordan Loveridge said it was crucial that he learn the physical part of the American game.
“I feel like that’s what he mostly needed and I feel like he’s figuring it out,” Loveridge said. “It’s not so much finesse. It’s more physical, a grind. So he’s figuring that out and he’s translating his game to that so that’s why he looks so comfortable now.”
Ogbe is settling in as a shooter. He’s 4-of-5 from 3-point range in games against UCLA and Arizona.
“I think he’s getting more comfortable with the game, getting more comfortable running the plays and stuff,” said sophomore guard Dakarai Tucker.
Throughout the process, Ogbe insists he’s having fun. The transition, which included hitting three 3-pointers earlier in the season at Boise State, has been motivated by a desire to earn more playing time and help his team.
“I just want to get better. I think I’ve got to work on a lot of things, especially my defense, and then I’ll be all right,” Ogbe said. “I’ve got three more years of this. So I think I’ll be all right.”
Ogbe is approaching things with an even keel. That’s just how the 19-year-old from Ehingen, Germany, does it.
“I’m just trying to play. It’s like every game is the same for me.” Ogbe said. “So it’s like every game is important and I’m just trying to help my team.”
And that, perhaps, is why he doesn’t seem nervous when playing against the Arizonas and UCLAs of the world.
“When you bring foreign guys in they really don’t know the history of the teams or know what players. They know a little bit,” Loveridge said. “Once they get here — (even) if they’ve been playing basketball for a while — they don’t really look too much into it like the American guys do when they see an Arizona or a UCLA, or see the rankings and stuff.
“They just play basketball,” Loveridge continued. “It’s just another game for them.”
Ogbe, though, said he knows it’s a big deal to play storied programs and ranked opponents. It’s cool, he explained, to tell friends about playing in such games.
“I get excited. I’m excited to play these teams. We know them in Germany,” Ogbe said. “But I really don’t get nervous.”
Utah (14-6, 3-5)
at Colorado (15-6, 4-4)
Coors Events Center, Boulder
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