Isaac Likekele was in the gym even though his coach told him not to be.
Oklahoma State’s Likekele claimed a gold medal as a member of USA Basketball at the FIBA U19 World Cup on July 7 in Heraklion, Greece. But the success across the ocean didn’t mean rest in Stillwater. When Likekele’s flight landed in Oklahoma City late the night after, OSU coach Mike Boynton told him not to go to Gallagher-Iba Arena the next day. But when Boynton showed up at 6 a.m. the next morning, Likekele was already there.
“I told him specifically not to come to the gym the next day,” Boynton said. “But he’s a great teammate. He missed his guys.”
Likekele didn’t participate in practice Wednesday, though, and will not for at least a couple of weeks, Boynton said. Boynton’s plan is to give Likekele some time off after playing six games in seven days, plus weeks of practice before the competition started.
“We haven’t put him on the court for anything,” Boynton said. “He’s around all the time, but we’re kind of taking a little bit off him physically since he’s been back. We know he got a lot of work in the last four or five, six weeks, and now we just need to let him regress and recover. I don’t know how much I’ll need him in July, but I know I’m gonna need him in January.”
Likekele, a sophomore point guard, spent most of Monday’s practice by Boynton’s side, offering just as much advice as his coach was to his teammates. When practice concluded, Likekele talked to media for the first time since beating Mali 93-79 in the finals. The win made Likekele only the fourth OSU player to win a U19 FIBA championship, joining a list that includes Matt Clark, Marcus Smart and Jawun Evans.
“It means a lot, not just for the university, but me and my family, especially the hard times and hard work that I’ve definitely put in,” Likekele said. “It was a blessing just to even be named with those few people selected.”
Likekele was one of 12 players selected for the squad that featured high school and college standouts. He averaged 8.4 points and 3.1 assists a game coming off the bench for USA Basketball. Likekele started in all of the Cowboys’ 32 games last season as a freshman, tallying 8.7 points and 3.9 assists a contest.
“I’ve never came off the bench before in my life,” Likekele said. “Not even middle school or anything. It was a different feel. I was never the type of guy to really care about starting or not, even though, ironically, I started my whole life. I never really cared about starting or not, I just felt like it’s important about what you’re gonna do when you’re out there, what you’re gonna do with your minutes. You gotta be productive, whether it’s 10 minutes or 30, you just gotta manage your minutes and do right while you’re in there.”
As for his gold medal, it’s at his house in Stillwater, for now. Likekele said he has to pose for a few pictures with it for OSU’s athletics communications office, and then he’ll send the medal to Arlington, Texas, to his family so they can frame the hardware with the jersey he wore.
“It was an unreal feeling, really,” Likekele said. “It still kind of hasn’t just hit me yet, like, I’m a gold medalist. That’s not something that people do every time in their lifetime. It’s rare, so I really just felt blessed to even be on that stage in front of those people. Once they put that medal on, you’re like, ‘Man, I really did it.’ You just work so hard for things like that, and it’s a great achievement to have.”