Prince Okonkwo vs the CIF 

West Ranch forward Prince Okonkwo (2) jumps up for a shot against Valencia during the second quarter of Friday's game at West Ranch. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
West Ranch forward Prince Okonkwo (2) jumps up for a shot against Valencia during the second quarter of Friday's game at West Ranch. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

West Ranch boys’ basketball can be seen in their pregame shirts that read “West Ranch vs. Everybody.” However, this season the team finds itself seemingly up against one strange opponent in particular, the California Interscholastic Federation. 

Wildcats forward Ebiebichukwu “Prince” Okonkwo’s season has been turned upside down after initially being cleared to play by the CIF Southern Section. Okonkwo sat out just four games earlier this season waiting for the official OK and returned to action when he was cleared. 

Oknonkwo, a 6-foot, 9-inch forward, made an impact in nearly every game he touched the floor but hasn’t checked into a game in weeks. 

About a month after being cleared, Wildcats head coach Jeff Bryant got word from the CIF that Okonkwo was back under review and would need to sit out until further notice. 

“It was kind of a ‘here we go again’ thing,” Bryant said. “Someone is trying to pull us down. It was a big gut punch because he was having a good year. This was the year he could’ve reached his potential. He needs those live games to reach his full potential, hearing he wasn’t able to play and hearing we’d have to forfeit, I thought ‘Really, he’s our kid? He’s been here since ninth grade, since day one. For them to act like he came out of nowhere, it was a gut punch, it was a distraction… I don’t care what they’re saying, they are wrong. I can show them in the rulebook, the CIF is wrong and that’s why they haven’t said ‘You guys have to forfeit.’”  

Okonkwo attended West Ranch as a freshman and played on the Cats junior varsity basketball team. As a sophomore, he transferred to Medford Tech High School in New Jersey. He played in the regular season before transferring back to West Ranch the same year. 

Both transfers, to and from West Ranch, were due to family reasons. 

On top of the Wildcats missing a key forward, the CIF is allegedly looking to make West Ranch forfeit all games Okonkwo played in. With the junior being cleared at the time, the decision makes no sense to Bryant. 

“It’s wrong and Prince should be playing,” Bryant said. “We shouldn’t have to forfeit. One, he should be cleared to play and two, they already cleared him to play. Why would we have to forfeit if he was cleared?” 

According to Bryant, the CIF is asking the school to self-inflict forfeits rather than rule such. The unprecedented move wasn’t received well at West Ranch, as Bryant and the administration believe everything was done by the book. 

“I’ve never heard of anything like this and have never talked to anyone that’s been in a similar situation,” Bryant said. “If someone has to forfeit, they broke a rule, it’s black and white and you can see where the rule is broken at. Our AD, Anne Konrad’s going to go by the book. If we did anything wrong, she wouldn’t support us at all. (West Ranch principal Robert) Fisher and her, they hold us to a higher standard. It’s unfortunate they’re probably getting the bad end of the stick, but if we were wrong they wouldn’t fight for us.” 

Prince’s unofficial sit-out period is coming up on a month with no signs of word from either side that he’ll be back on the court nor if the team will forfeit any games. With the future still so unclear, Okonkwo has hired an attorney to help combat the debacle. 

“This is kind of our final push to get him cleared,” Bryant said. “The family trusts me. We didn’t want it to come down to us but they’ve forced our hand. They’ve hired a very good attorney, and he’s saying what we’re saying. He’s confident, we’re all confident that Prince is gonna be eligible to play soon.” 

Bryant feels that through this tough situation, Okonkwo is the only person suffering. 

“It’s an unfortunate situation because he wants to be out there and play,” Bryant said. “He can’t control his circumstances as a kid. His mom did everything right with the Southern Section. They had everything they needed and they cleared him. For him to suffer when he’s already had to suffer, it’s not fair at all.” 

“He’s a big kid but he’s still a kid. He’s trying to stay positive and wants to play. The only thing we can do is show him we’re fighting for him. He’s lucky to have a principal that’s fighting for him too.” 

The coach believes his team and players are doing their best to stay focused on the season but  

Bryant has taken plenty of outside noise about the Okonkwo situation.  

“We wouldn’t be in this predicament if the CIF had some kindness in their heart,” Bryant said. “They were informed of Prince’s situation and they blatantly ignored it now they’re making a kid suffer that is already suffering. I believe Prince’s race and our reputation from getting transfers is causing Prince to get bullied in this situation. You have a single Mother who is bold enough to tell her truth and CIF ignores it. You have a mother who was trying to do right by her kid and CIF ignores it. I can guarantee if this was another race with a hardship, it would be looked at differently. But because Prince is 6-foot, 9 and attends school in a community people don’t think he belongs in, our governed body CIF initially made a decision based on the outside perception and not putting the kid first.” 

The CIF does not comment on active investigations nor player eligibility therefore the governing body cannot confirm anything happening with West Ranch. 

Bryant, Fisher, Konrad and the West Ranch administration will continue to fight for Okonkwo’s season. While Bryant is still confident, the uniqueness of the situation leaves a ton of uncertainties. 

Why Okonkwo’s eligibility was brought back under question after initial approval, is the biggest question Bryant has, and according to the coach, the CIF doesn’t have an answer. Bryant is hoping attorney involvement will be enough to get the situation settled and get his junior back on the court after a messy and mentally challenging season. 

“I’m grateful to our athletic directors, administration and everyone at school involved with athletics for holding their ground,” Bryant said. “If I wasn’t right, they wouldn’t be standing by me. I’m a million percent sure we’re not going to have to forfeit and we’re seeing positives that (Okonkwo’s) gonna be able to play soon.” 

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