During the summer of 2006, before Alex's sophomore year at The Winchendon (Mass.) School, BABC founder Leo Papile and Driscoll took him to the Peach Jam tournament in North Augusta, S.C., with a group of older kids from the club. "One of the [opposing] players, a Top 20 player in the country, went in for a dunk, and Alex went up and blocked the shot, pinning the ball against the backboard," remembers Driscoll. "We all just looked at one another and said, 'Wow.' That was when he was noticed."
Playing in the BABC system under Papile (and alongside future Huskies teammate Jamal Coombs-McDaniel) meant being exposed to the same resources afforded eventual NBA stars Patrick Ewing and Dana Barros, both of whom came up through the program. "It definitely started me off, getting to travel throughout the country," Oriakhi says. "If it wasn't for the BABC, I don't even know if I'd be here right now."
It was at one of the club's games, Oriakhi says, that UConn coach Jim Calhoun first watched him play. "He's a very mature basketball player," the coach told the Connecticut Post after Oriakhi was named a McDonald's All-American in 2009. "He really has worked hard on every aspect of his game."
Oriakhi had a strong freshman year at Connecticut, starting 29 games and being named to the Big East All-Rookie team. Still, when 6' 11" starting power forward Ater Majok abruptly left the team 2½ months before the 2010--11 season, the Huskies were unsure who would be their presence down low. The kid who once dressed for his games three hours before tip-off was ready.
"I knew everything was going to be put on me, and I got to work getting my body right in the weight room," the 6' 9" Oriakhi says. He embraced his role without hesitation, and he would lead UConn with 8.7 rebounds per game heading into the final while scoring 33 points and blocking five shots in the tournament's first five games.
This Husky may not have much bark or bite—"I'm easygoing, and I don't argue," Oriakhi says, and Calhoun has lamented aloud the soft-spoken big man's lack of a mean streak. But it turns out that Oriakhi didn't need an extra edge to become what he was this season: the starting center of a national-title-winning team. All Alex Oriakhi needed was his inherently good attitude, his natural drive and a stray $50 bill.