MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There are some differences between Jimmy Bell Jr. and James Okonkwo.

For starters, they hail from completely different continents. Bell is two inches taller and has at least 40 pounds on the younger Okonkwo. Bell has a football background; Okonkwo was a tennis player in his life across the pond.

Bell grew up playing basketball, though one of Bell’s former coaches told Bob Huggins that he wouldn’t score at this level. He has, by the way, recording 15 points for the second time in 10 days on Saturday against Number 15 Auburn. Okonkwo is still learning the game of basketball, doing so on the fly at times.

One thing they have in common is the ability to be a factor around the rim.

“I think the biggest thing is his teammates are developing confidence in him more, and more, and more. And I think that really helps James,” Huggins said following Saturday’s win over the Tigers. “As he matures as a player, and he matures as a person, he’s just going to continue to get better and better.”

Okonkwo has pieced together three-straight solid performances at a crucial juncture in West Virginia’s season.

It started with 14 minutes on the court against Texas, during which he scored six points, grabbed four rebounds, and tallied one block while not missing a shot. A few days later, Okonkwo came up with the block of the year, while chipping in five points and a career-high 10 rebounds off the bench in a much-needed road win over Texas Tech. He played a career-high 22 minutes — more than double the number of minutes he played all of last season.

“I knew I was going to get taken out of the game if he scored it. So, I just tried to go up as high as I can, and snatch it with two hands, and get it to my teammates,” Okonkwo said about his block last week, adding he was purely acting on instinct in the play.

Then on Saturday against No. 15 Auburn, he came up with another big block, sending a would-be shot attempt into the Tigers bench to protect West Virginia’s then-six-point lead. The big Englishman attempted a season-high five free throws, making four, en route to tallying six points, four rebounds, and two blocks in WVU’s latest win over a Top 25 team.

“When I was here in the summer, I was watching highlights and seeing [Sagaba Konate] and those guys block shots, I’m like, ‘Bro, James can do that.’ Because James was doing that in the summer in pickup,” guard Erik Stevenson said Saturday. “You can ask anybody. I mean, you see the block against, who was it, Tech? He was doing that in the summer. He had another today. I was like, ‘Bro, you can be doing that every game.'”

Stevenson called Okonkwo’s free throw shooting “huge” in the win over Auburn. Huggins often brings up Okonkwo’s athleticism when speaking of the young forward. It’s something that Stevenson and others have taken note of, as well.

“He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with,” said Stevenson. “And he’s just now tapping into his potential.”

Okonkwo isn’t just athletic; he’s smart, too. Still learning the ropes of playing at the highest level of college basketball, Okonkso has a great understanding of the science and technique of not just blocking a shot, but keeping it in bounds and what a play like that can do to the opposition.

The block against Texas Tech has gained him some attention on campus. Asked what a highlight-reel play, like the one he had in Lubbock, can do for him, personally, he said this secret is out.

“I guess the rest of the Big 12 knows I’m a shot blocker now,” he said with a smile and a laugh. “I guess I have to be aware of that when they drive to the rim now.”

Okonkwo admitted his confidence is increasing. He also feels his role is more defined now than it was at the start of the year. His game is more refined than it was at the point last season, as is his level of comfortability playing in front of big crowds like the sold-out Coliseum he played in front of against Auburn.

Speaking to what he and Seth Wilson need to do off the bench, Okonkso said simply, “We know what Huggs brought us here to do, and we’re just trying to fill that role as best we can.”