Ollie Okonkwo ready for final run in college after long journey to Illinois

URBANA (WCIA) — Ollie Okonkwo will never forget the feeling when he found out Iowa was eliminating its men’s tennis program due to COVID-19 cuts.

“At first I was kind of shocked, it was an emotional time because I have another two years, so what am I going to do,” Okonkwo said.

Faced with a long list of unknowns, a bum knee and no place to play in college, Ollie Okonkwo had some tough decisions to make.

“Honestly quite panicked because I came to the States to play tennis and I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do,” Okonkwo added. “This was kind of a wrench in the works.”

The Englishman decided to remain at Iowa and earn his degree while rehabbing his knee, sitting out the 2021-22 season. He landed on his feet with the Illini as a grad student, where he’s won 31 singles matches and 38 times in doubles play the past two years.

“It’s been kind of a stock market rise for Ollie a little bit, it’s trending up the whole time but you’ve still got your ups and downs with it all the time but to his credit I think he’s playing his best tennis here down the stretch,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said.

Okonkwo’s got his sights set on helping Illinois advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2021, before turning pro. And he’s doing it all with a unique perspective after a long journey he’s now thankful for.

“Honestly looking back at it now it was probably the best decision I made,” Okonkwo said about staying at Iowa for another year before coming to Champaign. “Because now I have a bachelor’s degree from Iowa and I’m about to graduate with a Masters degree from Illinois and I can still go play tennis.”

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