No one ever questioned Etengeneng “Mike” Orock’s talent as a basketball player. The Hoboken High School senior is an imposing 6-foot-7 with long arms and natural athletic ability. Although Orock, a native of Cameroon, only learned to play basketball while in grade school, he quickly took to the game and let his physical attributes take over.
But there were some aspects to Orock’s game that were just a bit lacking. He had a problem with consistency. One game, Orock would look like the second coming of Patrick Ewing, and the next, he played like Bobby Ewing. He also wasn’t aggressive enough. He was too nice of a guy on the floor.
“I basically had to learn to keep my intensity,” Orock said. “In the past, whenever I made a mistake, I would hang my head, instead of keeping my head up and playing hard. I felt sorry for myself instead of doing what I should have done.”
Hoboken head coach Buddy Matthews tried several times to get that message through Orock’s head last season, only to no avail.
“Mike had been a project for us,” Matthews said. “We spoke to him several times, but he’s basically a very shy, withdrawn kid. I don’t think he ever understood what we were trying to get from him.”
But the transformation of Mike Orock began in earnest over the summer months, when he attended two summer camps and started to get noticed by some college coaches. After all, the athleticism and the size were already there. He just needed a little intestinal fine tuning and some emotional and mental tweaking.
“One coach from Felician College said that the only thing I was missing was my intensity level,” Orock said. “I said, ‘Well, if that’s the only thing that’s missing, I have to pick it up. Going to college and getting a scholarship has been a major motivation for me. If I had to become more aggressive and more intense to get a scholarship, then that’s what I was going to do.”
“He started to visit colleges last summer, and they all told him that he needed to be more aggressive,” Matthews said. “Basically, that was the reality he needed. They all told him that if he wanted to be a scholarship player, he had to get more aggressive. That was what he needed. He didn’t listen to me.”
Going to the summer camps like the prestigious Five-Star Camp in Pennsylvania also gave Orock a chance to brush up on his basketball skills.
“I had to learn how to play different positions in camp, so that helped me a lot as well,” Orock said. “I even had to play the point [guard] one time, so I learned a lot. I also worked hard in the weight room. The time I spent working out really helped me.”
So it was a combination of wanting to earn a college scholarship and desiring to become a better basketball player that became the driving force in Mike Orock’s life. Orock understands the value of an education because of his strict family upbringing.
“My father is a college professor and my mother is a nurse,” Orock said. “Education is so big in my family. We all know that education and hard work is the foundation to a good future.”
Matthews loved to watch the transformation take place.
“He was gaining confidence as he got more aggressive,” Matthews said. “He would go to the weight room regularly and got bigger and stronger, so that helped. Last year was very frustrating watching him. His inconsistency was very frustrating.”
Added Matthews, “But now, he’s getting better and better. He had the ability. He had all the tools. We were just hoping it clicked. Now, it has.”
Since the season began, Orock has been a dominant force, averaging double figures in points and rebounds. In fact, Orock has scored in double figures in all eight Red Wing games and failed to grab at least 10 rebounds only once. He is averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per contest this season, a dramatic improvement over a year ago.
For his efforts, Orock has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. With returning Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Eddie Castellanos running the point and Orock now emerging as a dominant inside presence, the Red Wings are a solid contender for HCIAA Seglio and NJSIAA Group I playoff honors.
“We have a nice 1-2 punch now, inside and outside,” Matthews said. “Mike’s emergence is only going to make Eddie better. But Mike has been the difference this year, and we’re going to ride him.”
“I knew I definitely had to step up my game,” Orock said. “I couldn’t do it myself. Eddie has such great ability, and he always has me in his sights. I don’t even know I’m open and Eddie has the ball in my hands. He’s amazing. I lacked that last year. I have to keep it going.”
Orock isn’t content with his early season awakening.
“I’m not happy yet,” Orock said. “There’s always room for improvement. I can always go a little further.”
Hoboken educator James Monaco, Jr. has taken a special liking to Orock and has helped Orock’s goal of gaining a college scholarship. Monaco has helped other Hoboken students in the past, but he has developed a unique relationship with Orock.
“Out of all the people I’ve worked with in the past, and there have been some that have been exceptional, Mike is by far the most complete in terms of being a true student-athlete,” Monaco said. “I don’t mean that in a negative way toward anybody else; it’s just a credit to Mike that he’s able to fulfill his demanding academic obligations and excel on the basketball court at the same time. Mike has gone from a big, strong, athletic kid to a legitimate college basketball prospect in a matter of about 18 months. His work ethic in the weight room and on the court has been exemplary and his development has been astounding.”
The pursuit for the college scholarship continues. Orock is now fielding offers from some NCAA Division I schools, as well as an assortment of Division II schools. He hopes to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. So now the transformation from shy, insecure enigma to powerful dominant force has been completed, the coach can only hope for more of what he’s seen over the first eight games of the season.
“I’m happy everything finally clicked,” Matthews said. “I think he’s just going to be that much more of a force as the season goes on. He knows now he can do it. That’s all that was needed.”
But where does the name “Mike” come from? After all, it is a lot easier than Etengeneng.
“My middle name is somewhat close to Michael,” Orock said. “And my mother has always called me Mike. So we’ve used that.”
It fits. Now, others in Hoboken are going to want to be like Mike.
– Jim Hague