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Star center excels with parents on hand

SAN ANTONIO -- Emeka Okafor powered between a pair of
defenders and slammed home a rebound, electrifying the Connecticut
cheering section.

At the center of everything, Okafor put on an All-American
performance and punctuated it with that rim-shaking dunk late in
Monday night's 82-73 win over Georgia Tech for the NCAA
championship.

And somehow, up in the stands, Pius Okafor managed to stay
relaxed. With fans around him standing and shouting, he stayed in
his seat and politely applauded his son's jam while 10 other family
members looked on.

"I'm very calm," Okafor's father said in the closing minutes.
"I'm so proud of him and so excited that he's playing at this
level."

Oh, wait a minute. Dad also said: "He's played better than
this."

Maybe, but certainly not in a game of this magnitude.

The most dominant player in college basketball was picked as the
tournament's Most Outstanding Player after scoring 24 points and
getting 15 rebounds. He controlled the glass at both ends by
setting up shots on offense and altering attempts on defense.

"I don't think it's hit me yet," Okafor said. "When's
practice tomorrow?"

Okafor raised his arms high after corralling the final carom.
Later, he coaxed the game ball out of teammate Rashad Anderson's
hands.

"He figured I'd get the ball either the friendly or the
forceful way," Okafor said.

Wearing a championship hat, Okafor helped cut down the net to
chants of "One more year! One more year!" and then wandered
around the court. He perused a stat sheet, borrowed a camcorder to
mark the moment and slapped hands with Connecticut rooters on his
way to the locker room.

"It was a great season," the 6-foot-10 center said. "We had
our ups and down. This moment makes it all worthwhile."

"We came out and snuck by Duke. Then we came out and grabbed
the national title," he said.

Slowed by back spasms during a November loss to Georgia Tech and
limited by a right shoulder stinger in the Phoenix Regional, Okafor
was overpowering at the end.

Behind him, it was never as close as the final score indicated
as UConn won its second crown in six seasons. The Huskies' 15-point
halftime lead was the biggest in an NCAA title game in 37 years,
and Okafor never let Tech get near until the outcome was decided.

"He had his way with us out there," Tech center Luke
Schenscher said.

The Yellow Jackets simply had no answer for him, despite trying
to give the 7-foot-1 Schenscher as much double-team help as they
could.

Tech tried to go at him, hoping to get him in foul trouble as
Duke did in the semifinals. Okafor picked up his second foul just
five seconds before halftime and it looked as if he got No. 3 only
2{ minutes into the second half.

But as Okafor slammed his hands in frustration, the officials
said the foul was on Josh Boone.

It was that kind of night for Okafor -- everything went his way.

"I thought we did some good things against Emeka Okafor, but he
kept his concentration," Tech coach Paul Hewitt said.

"He had six turnovers, which part of our plan was to attack
him, see if we could force some of those turnovers out of him,
which we did, but we didn't capitalize at the other end."

A 21-year-old junior, Okafor will get his finance degree next
month with a 3.8 grade-point average. He's expected to be among the
top picks in the NBA draft in June and coach Jim Calhoun said he
thought Okafor was ready to play in the pros.

After growing up in war-torn Nigeria, Pius Okafor said he was
most proud that his son needed only three years to earn a college
degree. As for his son's basketball talent, "I knew he'd be good,
but not that good," he said after the game.

Confetti cannons shot off after the game and Okafor made his way
to the podium to collect his prizes. In the stands, his dad was
finally beaming.

"This is the American dream come true," Pius Okafor said.