MISSOULA – You couldn’t script a better moment for senior night.
When Ahmaad Rorie found Michael Oguine for an alley-oop on Saturday night to put the Grizzlies up by 10 points and effectively seal UM’s win over Southern Utah, the play symbolized what those two players and the rest of the senior class means to the program as their time winds down.
Clutch. Exciting. Historic.
And you knew it was coming. It had to on a night like Saturday. Rorie and Oguine have completed that lob countless times between the duo who already rank in the top 10 in the school’s history in scoring and continue to climb that ladder down the stretch of the season.
Saturday’s senior night was Oguine’s 116th start for the Grizzlies out of the 120 games he’s played. He currently sits at No. 8 on Montana’s all-time scoring list with 1,560 points, just four points behind his backcourt mate in Rorie.
Oguine has been a fixture and pillar of Montana’s program since the minute he arrived. Every freshman arrives on campus wanting to play right away, but Oguine was actually thrown into the fire and thrived.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For me in the offseason, I just wanted to be on the court,” Oguine said. “I wanted to be a starter. I wanted to play. So I’d be really hard on myself. I’d push myself to get to where I wanted to go.”
After his senior year at Chaminade Prep High School in Chatsworth, California — which is a neighborhood in the northwestern San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles — Oguine said he began college prepping right away so he was ready once he arrived in Missoula.
“When I got here it was about setting the tone,” Oguine said. “I wanted to make it so the coaches had no choice but to put me on the court. I wanted to just be a guy who made plays and did the little things to help the team win.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself. It wasn’t always easy.”
But Oguine’s drive to be the best is born by the fact that he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He stands 6-foot-2, but Oguine’s leaping ability matches some of the best the NBA Combine sees every year. Oguine said his official max standing vertical is 40 inches, a trait that’s allowed him to throw down exciting dunks (see Saturday’s oop or last year’s game versus Michigan) as well as performing as one of Montana’s best rebounders. He ranks second for the Grizzlies this year at 5.5 per contest.
“I kind of felt like my recruitment wasn’t at the level it should be. A lot of people think like that. What pushed me was OK, let me prove that I’m here for a reason,” Oguine said. “So I went to talk to coach (Travis DeCuire) on the phone, and the conversation we had, something clicked right away. I could really see myself making a difference here. He really believed in me.
“So ever since then it’s been about making the most out of it. When I wake up in the morning, I want to prove that he didn’t make a mistake. I want to prove that I’m here and that I can be successful at this level, so I guess that’s what it really comes down to.”
That chip is what drew DeCuire to Oguine in the recruiting process.
“I wanted guys like myself who had a chip on their shoulder and had something to prove,” DeCuire said. “They’d been told no before and weren’t good enough or weren’t ready and there were always excuses for why they couldn’t play at a certain level. I wanted some guys that wanted to prove themselves and he’s done that.”
DeCuire said Oguine’s impact in the classroom, community and on the court exemplified what he wants his guys to do.
But the fifth-year head coach goes even further, saying he always gets positive feedback from fans or administrators about guys like Oguine.
“I think every time you interact with him, you walk away with a smile and that’s what this is about,” he said. “I think we lose sight sometimes. As coaches we want to hang banners and as fans we want to see our team in the NCAA Tournament and win games. We forget that this is a learning experience for these guys and it’s not just what’s in the books. It’s the experiences that we share with each other. The trips to Costa Rica, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Kansas and Gonzaga. He’s been a part of all those special moments, along with Bobby (Moorehead) and I’ll never forget what those guys brought and helped rebuild.”
During that recruiting process, DeCuire saw Oguine’s hunger and competitiveness. So when he got here, DeCuire said Oguine was on the cusp of starting immediately, but he wanted to put him behind a couple of players to bring that fire out and have him earn his keep.
He did that, and four years later, he’ll leave with a glowing legacy.
“He represents my culture. A lot like Fab (Krslovic) on his way out, what we’re about and what I want in terms of representation of the Griz way, is already instilled in him and it was before he got here,” DeCuire said. “As we cultivated our culture, he grew in a lot of those areas.”
As all seniors do, Oguine looks back at how rapidly his career has gone. And he’s seen it all. His freshman year Montana fell just short of a Big Sky tournament championship, followed by a disappointing 16-16 year. That was followed by finally breaking through to the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
After achieving that first goal of playing right away, there was another bigger one on his list.
“I wanted to win first and foremost. When coach recruited me we talked about his vision for the program and where he wanted to take it,” Oguine said. “That sat well with me and in line with my goals as a college player. I think I was able to do that pretty well. We were able to win a lot of games and hang a banner. Hopefully we can hang a second one.”
Oguine said the offseason after the 16-16 campaign was a grind. But everyone grew closer together during that time. Oguine and Moorehead have been roommates since Day 1 at UM. Oguine added that Rorie is one of the most talented players he’s ever been around.
On the court, Oguine also serves as a role model for true freshmen who see significant minutes and rotation time right away. He knows what it’s like to be young and in a new environment, so he helps where he can.
A first-generation American, Oguine’s move to Missoula was his first outside of California. His parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. In California, he knew a lot of kids with a similar situation. But he realized how unique his upbringing was once he moved to Montana.
“It makes you kind of put it into perspective of OK, I’m really figuring this thing out in America on my own. My parents came here and were already grown. They didn’t grow up in American culture,” Oguine said. “It also makes me appreciate that my parents came from somewhere and brought that culture over. I’m proud of my Nigerian heritage. It’s pretty special knowing where I come from. I could hop on a plane and go to Nigeria and see my family and my life from 100 years ago and all of these descendants.
“It made it really more special to realize how unique it is to be a first-generation American and have family back in Africa that you can go back to and connect to at any point in your life.”
While a lot of kids visit countries of their ancestors when they’re young, Oguine got the opportunity to visit Nigeria when he was 19 and a freshman in college. Because of that, he was able to appreciate his heritage.
Growing up, Oguine said the biggest difference he saw between first-generation Americans and other kids was his parents. He said his parents were strict with academics as the No. 1 priority no matter what.
“Basketball wasn’t big in Nigeria. Soccer was big but when our parents came, and I speak for my friends, it wasn’t like we’re going to have a son in America and he’s going to get a college basketball scholarship. It was we’re going to come to America, you’re going to get your education and work hard in school, going to go to college, get a good job and go from there and start a family,” he explained. “That’s the main thing.”
That heritage allowed him to connect with teammates too. Akoh and freshman Eddy Egun (who is redshirting this year) are also first-generation Americans of Nigerian parents who hail from Southern California.
After the season, Oguine will graduate with a degree in business marketing. Like Rorie and Akoh, he has aspirations to play basketball professionally, wherever that may take him. But in the time he’s been in Missoula, he said he’s grown and matured and been more comfortable with himself, which has allowed him to find success in basketball.
“As a freshman you kind of come in wanting to put out this image of who you are. It’s just natural and everyone does it,” Oguine said. “Through my four years I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am. Not trying to change for anybody. Just be comfortable in my own skin. I feel that’s what it comes down to.”
With three games left in the regular season, Oguine and his fellow seniors are looking to replicate what few have done at Montana and make back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament.
And for Oguine, every game going forward will cement a lasting legacy with the Griz that ranks among the school’s best.
“The main thing is I’m just thankful for the opportunity I had,” he said. “A lot of guys have played college basketball in general and maybe not got the opportunities to do what they can, but I’m fortunate because I was able to get the opportunity. I was able to make the most of it. That’s really the thing I think about now.
“We’ve all spent a lot of time with each other. We know our strengths and weaknesses. We know how to push each other. I think it’s been a good mesh. We’ve had a lot of success, won a lot of games. It’s about doing it again one more year and hanging another banner.”