Replacement players have big void to fill

July, 3, 2012
7/03/12
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Goodluck Okonoboh is in a tough spot.

The 6-foot-9 center is getting ready for his senior year at the Tilton School (Tilton, N.H.), and college offers are rolling in for the athletic big man. But it's not all good news for Okonoboh.

That's because no one wants to be "The Replacement."

In all of sports, it might the worst situation in which to find yourself: replacing a departed superstar. Especially at the high school level, where a dominant player can graduate, take his game to a Division I college and leave a huge hole in the lineup.

[+] EnlargeNerlens Noel
J.Anthony Roberts/ESPNHS.comIt will be a challenge replacing Nerlens Noel, pictured, at Tilton, but Goodluck Okonoboh is up for it.
Unfortunately for Okonoboh, that's exactly where he is right now. With former Tilton School star Nerlens Noel having graduated and heading to Kentucky, Okonoboh will step into the void next season, and he'll be tasked with replacing much of Noel's defensive presence, rebounding, shot-blocking and leadership.

Noel was the No. 1 player in the Class of 2012, so Okonoboh has some huge shoes to fill.

"I think I'm ready," Okonoboh said. "I learned a lot from Nerlens, and I give him credit for a lot of the things he has taught me. I think during the high school season I'm going to be a different player, and I'm going to open a lot of people's eyes."

Okonoboh is considered more raw than his predecessor was at this stage in his career, but it will be hard to stop people from holding Okonoboh up to the standard set by Noel. The comparisons are too easy: same school, same position, same style of play, same elite athleticism -- they even sport a similar high-top hairstyle.

Okonoboh has the talent to get the job done. He started in the frontcourt alongside Noel last year and put up solid numbers, and his defense was especially impressive. Schools like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Missouri and Gonzaga have already offered, and he's ranked as the No. 11 center in the Class of 2013 by ESPN. Luckily for Okonoboh, he got to learn from Noel, one of the greatest shot-blockers in high school history, before trying to replace him.

"He taught me that, like anything else, you've got to work at it," said Okonoboh. "Blocking shots is an art form. It's not just about being big -- it's about timing. Nerlens has great timing, and I've been working on it."

Okonoboh also plays for the same AAU team that Noel did, and this summer he's performed well as the top big man on Boston-based BABC, averaging 3.0 blocks per game.

That should give him some experience in playing outside of Noel's shadow, but it still won't be easy next year. It's never easy being "The Replacement."

Who’s got next?

Here’s a look at five other big-name ballers with big shoes to fill this upcoming season:

Rashad Muhammad replacing Shabazz Muhammad (No. 2 in Class of 2012)
Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Perhaps no player will be under the microscope as much as Rashad, who is tasked with stepping in for his older brother and last year’s Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year in Gorman’s lineup. Rashad, an unranked 6-foot-5 junior wing, is a talented playmaker and rebounder and has interest from the likes of Maryland, USC and UNLV.

Karviar Shepherd replacing Isaiah Austin (No. 3)
Grace Prep Academy (Dallas)
Shepherd could very well join Austin at Baylor during the 2013 season, but for now, he’ll take a shot at replacing the standout 7-footer in the middle of the Lions’ lineup. Shepherd (No. 29 in the ESPN 100) is a physical presence in the middle with his 6-foot-9 and 215-pound frame, and he will use every bit of that size to alter shots and keep opponents off the offensive glass. While he lacks the refined offensive game Austin hung his hat on at Prep, Shepherd is a capable finisher and will form a nice 1-2 frontcourt tandem along with classmate Jordan Mickey.

Hallice Cooke and Josh Brown replacing Kyle Anderson (No. 5)
St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.)
It just might take two players to replace the all-around play Anderson wowed spectators with every time he stepped on the floor for this storied program. St. Anthony’s hasn’t lost a contest in either of the past two seasons and won a national title in 2011 with Anderson running the show. Cooke is a 6-foot-3 off guard with a deft touch from the outside, while Brown is another dangerous perimeter threat and holds offers from Gonzaga, UVA and Temple, among others.

Ishmail Wainright replacing Justin Anderson (No. 49)
Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.)
Don’t expect much of a drop off in production at the 3 spot this winter as Wainright and Anderson are similarly built forwards who could take over a contest with their athleticism and basketball smarts. Anderson averaged 18 points with 5.7 helpers last season to guide Montrose to a top-15 national ranking. Wainright, the No. 18 player in the rising senior class, should enjoy a spike in production after posting 8.0 points, 8.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds a contest as a junior.
Mike Grimala is an associate editor for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter at @MGrimalaESPN »

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