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When Kenneth Ogbe says he was on the road to retirement, that's not figurative.
The 6-foot-6 junior was on his way to the compliance office this offseason, ready to make the transition out of his playing days after three injury-filled seasons with Utah basketball.
Maybe it was just the restless thoughts sloshing around in his mind on that walk: He started thinking about his future, what he would do, what he would be. He started thinking about his regrets.
"I just thought when I get to be 30 or 40 or whatever, will I be disappointed I didn't give it another chance?" he said. "I wanted to try. I wanted a fresh start."
He's gotten one, and more: The 22-year-old German is leading his new team, Utah Valley (5-2), in scoring with 15.6 points per game, hitting two-thirds of his 3-point attempts and most importantly winning. The Wolverines enjoyed a 114-101 win at BYU on the road last week, which Ogbe said was made all the more enjoyable "because I still have a bit of Ute in me."
But that part of his history his time on three squads that won 20 or more games will have to be held in check on Tuesday night as Ogbe makes his first start in the Huntsman Center as a member of the visiting team. His old coaches will be plotting against him. His old teammates will be guarding him. And the Runnin' Utes (5-1) will be looking to roll through their latest nonconference opponent, dangerous though they might be.
Ogbe's renaissance season hasn't gone unnoticed by Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who believed that Ogbe was about to retire, then was crestfallen when he decided to head elsewhere.
"My first idea was kind of like with Jeremy [Olsen], try to do the right thing and get him his degree," he said. "All of a sudden, he kept talking about wanting to play. And I did want him back. If you're going to play, I'd like you to play here."
The allure of Ogbe has long been his potential. The wing can shoot, has long arms and can slash to the rim. Utah coaches knew all these things about Ogbe. But they rarely got to see them on the court.
Problems arose in his sophomore year: A mysterious pain in his groin and hamstrings was diagnosed as osteitis pubis, an inflammation of a joint in the pubic bone. The condition makes the muscles in the area more prone to tears and damage.
Ogbe, as many athletes do, tried to make himself play through discomfort. But it usually only led to worse problems. In the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons combined, he played in only 27 games. Last season, he played in only five, and ended up redshirting the year. It didn't help afterward that many of his closest friends on the team Jakob Poeltl, Chris Reyes, Austin Eastman among them left after the season, taking away some of his support system.
"It was just tough," he said. "I was really frustrated."
After the season, Krystkowiak met with Ogbe in a meeting where he said "tears were involved." He related to Ogbe something Phil Jackson had told him at the end of his NBA career as his knees were giving out: Your head and heart are in it, but your body might not be.
But Ogbe hadn't yet exhausted his options: He had a medical procedure in Germany, and then he started to feel better. Suddenly, he and Krystkowiak weren't on the same page. Ogbe told Krystkowiak he felt that Utah had been looking toward recruiting over him. But Krystkowiak said he had only been preparing for him to retire, as they had talked about over several months.
But don't look for bitterness from Ogbe.
"The coaches were really supportive they helped me a lot," he said. "Utah is a special place for me. I'll always be grateful for my time there and the memories I have."
It took a lot of work to get his degree for a grad transfer, which Ogbe determined would be his best option to get a fresh start and a chance to play more minutes. He took nine classes over the summer, spending much more time in the library than the gym.
Utah Valley took him on late in the game, and he took time to get in shape. He's been more disciplined about telling coaches when he feels pain and needs to sit out.
Ogbe said he still visits Salt Lake City and Utah's campus often, but that he's fit into the culture seamlessly in his new home.
"Most of us tried it out at a higher level, but it didn't work out for whatever reason," he said. "We're having a lot of fun now."
Krystkowiak said he's not excited to play his former guard, but he is excited that he's back on the court.
"It's cool that he's playing, I wish he were here," he said after Monday's practice. "If he wanted a fresh start, he's obviously leading the team in scoring and some good things are happening for him. I just hope he doesn't feel too good about it tomorrow night."
Ogbe back on the court
• Former Utah guard Kenneth Ogbe is leading Utah Valley with 15.6 points per game.
• Ogbe is shooting. 66.7 percent on 3-point shots, tops in the nation.
• The Munich native averaged 3.7 ppg, shot 41.9 percent from long range in Utah career.