BY ANNE FORLINE
GLOUCESTER CITY NEWS
On February 18, Gloucester High’s Stefano Okoro accomplished what only two other GHS Lions have done
in the past: score 2,000 points. Okoro made his milestone on a free-throw in the fourth quarter of the game against Pennsauken Tech.
He joins 1998 GHS graduates, Keith Gorman and Megan Light,who also earned this scoring distinction. Gorman holds the school’s all-time record of 2,128 points.
Okoro is a product of the Brooklawn and Gloucester School systems and spent his entire academic and athletic careers here. Although he stands 6’3”, he has a smile measuring much wider than that.
He has made quite a name for himself, not only as a standout athlete, but also as a nice kid who keeps a positive attitude and his grades up.
I recently interviewed Okoro during his free period and we met in the school’s Media Center, where he held the door open for me. His easy-going and friendly personality emerged immediately. He laughed hard after I asked him if he liked the television commercial that shows Dikembe Mutombo running around the grocery store.
During our interview, he was periodically interrupted by other students who circled around him to slap a high-five or call out, “Hey, Michael Jordan.”
Okoro is the middle child of Pascal and Ethel, who themselves are accomplished athletes. His mother was a sprinter and his father, a soccer player.
Okoro began playing sports at the age of four on Brooklawn’s Little League fields. It was on those fields where Okoro watched his big brother, Ray play. “Watching him made me want to play and he inspired me,” Okoro said.
At Gloucester High, Okoro made the varsity basketball team as a freshman. He also plays baseball, football and runs track.
Out on the basketball court, Okoro’s position is defense and he loves it. “I can be an-all around, complete player in that position” he said. He named Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade as his NBA influences.
During the season, he plays every minute of every game, without taking a break. “Unless, I get into some foul trouble,” Okoro admitted with a sly grin.
He said he faced his toughest opponent, Paulsboro, as a sophomore.
This year, as a Senior, he was named one of the Lion’s three co-captains. When asked how he keeps track of all his statistics, he laughed and said, “When I’m out there, I’m in the game. I’m not paying attention to that. Coach tells me how I’m doing.”
“Coach” is Kevin Hagan, or “Hages” as Okoro calls him. Okoro credits his coach for “being on me, pushing me to be the best I can be and to keep improving.”
Of his star player, Hagan said he has coached Okoro for four years, “Stefano is a great kid and has made my job easier as a coach.” He added, “It has been an honor to watch him grow from a freshman to a sophomore to a junior. But this year, he really took off.”
Hagan speaks highly of Okoro’s attitude along with his ability to handle himself. “The younger kids really look up to him,” the coach added.
Despite having to stay after school on most days for two hour practices, Okoro still has his homework to contend with. That does not bother him at all. “When I come home, I stay up late to get it finished. It’s all worth it,” he stated.
His mother, a nurse, stressed that no matter how tired her son is after a game or practice, his schoolwork is still the most important thing.
She explodes with pride at how well her son has done, calls him a “good boy” and marvels that other people sing his praises. “Stefano actually surprised me how he has grown up and matured over four years,” she said.
When she watches her son on the court, she is amazed at the leader she sees out there. “The way he directs the team, he does so well,” she observed.
Of her son’s intense drive, she said, “All he ever thinks and dreams about his basketball. If he has five extra seconds, he goes right outside and practices his shooting.”
As the basketball season winds down, Okoro looks ahead to April 17th, which is signing day. He has been scouted by several colleges, among them Ryder University, Long Island University and New Jersey Institute of Technology.
He wants to major in either business or psychology. He admires his father, a psychologist, for the work he does with inner city youth in Philadelphia.
Outside of basketball, Okoro also looks forward to the upcoming track season. He has his sights set on one more record before graduation, the long jump. He is one inch away from breaking the school’s record of 21 feet 9 inches, which was set in 2009.
Will he nail it? Okoro modestly responded, “I don’t want to brag, but I think so. I just have to work towards it.”
Anne Forline blogs at: http://anneforline.blogspot.com.