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7-foot-5 Connor Vanover, Oral Roberts poised for Cinderella run
Connor Vanover has averaged nearly 13 points and over seven rebounds per game this season for Oral Roberts. (Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

7-foot-5 Connor Vanover, Oral Roberts poised for Cinderella run

TULSA, Okla. (BVM) – Throughout the season, Purdue’s Zach Edey has been one of the most talked about players in college basketball. The 7-foot-4 center is a huge presence on the court, and has been arguably the best player in the nation as he helped lead the Boilermakers to a regular season Big Ten title. However, this March, college basketball fans will become familiar with someone who is even taller than Edey, and is poised to shine on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament: Connor Vanover.

Vanover is a 7-foot-5 center at Oral Roberts. For college basketball fans, that school name probably rings a bell, as just two years ago, the Golden Eagles made a Cinderella run all the way to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed after stunning No. 2 Ohio State in the opening round, and later defeating seven-seeded Florida.

The Golden Eagles failed to make it back to the NCAA Tournament last season with some key losses such as forward Kevin Obanor, but in 2023, in part thanks to the addition of Vanover, they will make their return to the Big Dance.

On the year, Oral Roberts has gone an impressive 30-4. They were a perfect 18-0 in Summit League play, and won three more games in the conference tournament which included a dominant 92-58 performance in the championship game against North Dakota State.

When they made their run in 2021, the Golden Eagles were just 19-12 overall on the year. This time around, they enter the tournament as a true threat thanks to several key guys. One of those is guard Max Abmas who was a star during the team’s Cinderella run two years ago. This season, the Summit League Player of the Year has scored over 22 points per game while also averaging around four rebounds and four assists. 

Carlos Jurgens and Kareem Thompson are other key contributors on this year’s team who were on the 2021 squad, while the additions of guard Issac McBride – a Little Rock, Arkansas native who played with Vanover in high school – and forward Patrick Mwamba have also played into the team’s success.

However, the addition that has perhaps stood out the most for Oral Roberts in 2022-23 is Vanover. The 7-foot-5 senior has started all 33 games he has played in this season for the Golden Eagles, seeing the court nearly 26 minutes per game. Offensively, he has averaged just shy of 13 points, shooting 52% from the field. Vanover can play inside and out, as he shoots 33% from 3-point range, and also has a nice touch at the foul line, shooting 81% on free throws.

Of course, Vanover is a force on the other end of the court as well. In addition to grabbing over seven rebounds a game, the Little Rock native averages 3.3 blocks. One underrated aspect of his game is also his ability to stay out of foul trouble, as he has just 1.4 fouls per contest and hasn’t fouled out of a game throughout the season.

In addition to multiple 20-point efforts over the course of the year, Vanover has posted seven double-doubles, two of which came in back-to-back games to close the Summit League Tournament. Vanover also had five and six-block performances in the final two games of the conference tourney to make it 10 games in which he has blocked five shots or more on the year.

For the 7-foot-5, 227-pound big man, the special senior season has been a rewarding part of a long basketball journey. 

Vanover has been around the game his whole life, as his mom, Robyn Vanover, was a star women’s basketball player at Arkansas in the late 1980s. Robyn was a solid scorer for the Razorbacks, but like her son, she was also tremendous on the defensive end, leading her team in blocks in three different seasons. 

Connor Vanover Arkansas Razorbacks Oral Roberts Golden Eagles NCAA Tournament March Madness
Connor Vanover followed in his mom’s footsteps by playing two seasons of college basketball at Arkansas. (Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

With both Robyn and her husband, Chris Vanover, standing 6-foot-3, their kids were bound to grow up tall. However, there were likely not many who imagined one of the couple’s sons would exceed seven feet, let alone three.

Connor also has two older brothers, twins Brandon and Justin. The 7-foot Brandon went on to play college basketball at Central Arkansas, while 7-foot-1 Justin attended Alabama where he played saxophone in the school band.

Because of their height, the Vanovers have always gotten a lot of attention. Connor has been on the radar in the basketball world for quite a while, as he was already 5-foot-1 at seven years old, 6-foot-6 in seventh grade, and hit a growth spurt the following summer to hit the 7-foot mark by eighth grade.

As a result, Connor’s long, skinny frame has always stood out on the court, and that has not stopped to this day.

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In high school, he played three seasons at Arkansas Baptist Prep, winning three conference championships and back-to-back state titles as he racked up over 1,000 points, 700 rebounds and 300 blocks in this time with the Eagles. 

Connor’s senior season came at Findlay Prep in Nevada where he averaged 8.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. During high school, Connor also got to play with Team USA, winning a gold medal in the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 championship.

Despite his height, Connor wasn’t seen as a can’t-miss prospect out of high school, ranking just 339th nationally in the 2018 class. Still, there was plenty of intrigue in the big man.

Connor Vanover Cal Golden Bears Oral Roberts Golden Eagles NCAA Tournament March Madness
Connor Vanover began his college basketball career playing for Cal in 2018-19. (Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports)

Although he was initially committed to Memphis, Connor’s path eventually led him to the University of California, Berkeley. The big man played decently for the Golden Bears as a freshman, averaging 7.5 points and three rebounds across 28 games, 15 of which were starts.

However, after his freshman season, the opportunity presented itself for Connor to come back home. He transferred to join Eric Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks, the same school his mom had previously starred at.

“Connor has tremendous upside,” Musselman said when the center joined the program. “He is an incredibly unique player. At 7-foot-3, he can stretch the floor offensively by shooting the 3-pointer and be a rim-protecting shot blocker on the defensive end.”

Throughout his time at Arkansas, Connor did that, but didn’t quite emerge into the star many thought he could be. After redshirting in 2019-20, he averaged 6.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks as a sophomore in 2020-21, earning starts in 27 of 29 games. Connor helped the Razorbacks to a 25-7 season that would culminate with an Elite Eight run. However, the center played in just four minutes during the NCAA Tournament.

Connor returned to Fayetteville where he started the first seven games of the season in 2021-22, and 10 games overall. But, as young guys like Jaylin Williams emerged for Arkansas, the 7-foot-5 center had his playing time diminish, as he saw the court in just 7.5 minutes per game, and didn’t see any action after Jan. 18.

Arkansas did make the tournament again, giving Connor another slight taste of the madness of March, but it wasn’t what he expected at his home-state school. As a result, he entered the transfer portal once again, looking for a place where he could truly excel.

That ultimately ended up being with Oral Roberts as he joined sixth-year head coach Paul Mills.

“I’ve watched Connor since he was 14 years old and have always been impressed by his development through the years,” Mills said when Connor announced he was transferring to Oral Roberts. “He has played basketball with several of our players on our roster so our guys were familiar with him. He is committed to being a high-level player and I’m glad we get to be a part of his growth. Connor’s impact will be felt immediately on both ends of the court.”

Mills was right, as Connor went on to earn Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, Summit League Newcomer of the Year, and first-team All-Summit League honors this season. It didn’t take long for Connor to realize he was going to fit in in Tulsa, and a smooth transition early has been a key to Oral Roberts’ success down the stretch.

Connor Vanover Oral Roberts Golden Eagles NCAA Tournament March Madness
Connor Vanover earned Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and Summit League Newcomer of the Year honors in his first season at Oral Roberts. (Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports)

“I felt really comfortable in the system from the start,” Connor said during an interview with Tulsa World earlier in the season. “I feel like it’s been a pretty fluid transition. My play style just kind of really fits in with what Coach Mills has going on here … I feel like these guys really enjoy having me around.”

Connor still sticks out on the court as a skinny and lengthy player who clearly stands above the rest, just as he always has. But, after five years, he has finally found his place in college basketball. 

His play has been part of what has helped Oral Roberts to its best season in program history. Now, he will set his sights on leading the Golden Eagles on their deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history as well.

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