Uche Okafor powers Camden Catholic to South A title

Uche Okafor, right, of Camden Catholic is hugged by Baba Ajike after Okafor’s basket proved to be the difference in their 50-48 victory over Eastern in their season opener in boys’ basketball on Dec. 15, 2017.

Uche Okafor couldn’t wait to start spreading the news.

The Camden Catholic junior raised his game above the rim in the Irish’s 44-39 victory over St. Joseph of Metuchen in the Non-Public South A final on Thursday night at Brick Memorial High School.

His next chore was to send the word across the ocean.

“That’s all I’m going to do tonight,” said Okafor, a Nigerian with family and friends in the African nation. “I’m going to be sending pictures back to the my friends, back to my mom.

“I can’t wait to tell her. My mom is going to be so proud of me.”

Okafor, a 6-foot-6 junior center, generated 13 points with seven rebounds and three blocks as fourth-seeded Camden Catholic (23-6) won its first sectional title since 2010 and seventh since 1993.

Junior forward Baba Ajike added 10 points with 10 rebounds and senior swingman Dominic Dunn contributed nine points and sealed the victory with two free throws at the 0:09 mark.

“It’s amazing,” Dunn said. “It feels better than I dreamed it would. Way better.”

Camden Catholic, which won Non-Public A state titles in 2010, 2003, and 2001, will face Don Bosco Prep, which defeated St. Peter’s Prep, in the state championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Toms River North.

“I was saying all week we waited eight years too long for this,” the 6-foot-5 Ajike said.

Camden Catholic controlled the game’s tempo behind junior point guard Pat Corbett, who scored 10 points and played shut-down defense with Okafor and Ajike protecting the paint.

“Our defense has been out constant all season,” Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford said.

In some ways, it was a typical game for Camden Catholic: Deliberately paced and low-scoring, with high-pressure possessions in the fourth quarter.

“We’re used to these type of games,” Crawford said. “Playing in the Olympic Conference, playing the Atlantic Citys and Wildwood Catholics of the world, it prepares you for games like this.”

Camden Catholic was clutch from the foul line in the fourth quarter, as St. Joseph (23-5) rallied behind Howard McBurnie (12 points) and K-Shawn Shulters (12 points).

Ajike’s two free throws at the 3-minute, 13 second mark made it 38-32. Corbett’s two free throws at 2:03 made it 40-34. Ajike’s two free throws at 1:32 made it 42-34. And Dunn’s two free throws at 0:09 sealed the deal with the game’s final points.

“I knew I was going to make them,” Dunn said. “I missed a couple against [St.] Augustine earlier in the week. No way was I missing these. I knew my teammates were counting on me.”

Okafor is an exchange student who enrolled at Camden Catholic before his freshman season. He lives in the Nazareth House on campus with other exchange students.

Okafor played for the Irish as a freshman but missed last season with a leg injury. He has made steady improvement this season, developing into a defensive force and top rebounder.

Thursday night, Okafor was a productive offensive player as well. His best move was a spin and baby left-handed hook for a 27-17 lead late in the third quarter.

He also deposited a layup off a nifty feed from Corbett for a 29-24 lead.

“He’s getting better and better every day,” Crawford said.

Okafor called his performance the best of his career.

“This is the greatest game I ever played,” Okafor said. “I was so nervous when I woke up this morning. It was the championship game. I was just so happy to be part of it.”

Camden Catholic 10 9 12 13 – 44

St. Joseph 5 8 13 13 – 39

CC: Baba Ajike 10, Dominic Dunn 9, Uche Okafor 13, Pat Corbett 10, Hakim Melvin 2.

SJ: Tyree Ford 10, Luke Fresco 5, Howard McBurnie 12, K-Shawn Shulters 12, Dan Young 0.


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