Playing at Koch Arena on Saturday was a surreal experience for Oral Roberts sophomore Elijah Lufile.
If the last name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the younger brother of former Shocker Chadrack Lufile, who played for Wichita State during the 2013 Final Four run and the 35-0 start the following season.
“When we got off the bus (Friday night), I told my coach that this is giving me chills because I watched my older brother play every game both years he was here in Wichita,” Eljiah Lufile said. “I even watched him play Oral Roberts.”
The chills intensified when Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills informed Lufile, a 6-foot-8, 275-pound center, he would be making his first career start against the Shockers. Even better, Chadrack Lufile was flying to Wichita so he could watch his brother for the first time in college.
“I look up to my older brothers so much, so I knew if I was going to start, then I had to play my best,” Elijah Lufile said. “Not only for him, but for myself, for my family and for my team.”
WSU won the game, 68-59, but Eljiah Lufile was true to his word and played his best game yet, registering his first career double-double with a career-high 13 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two steals in his first career start.
No one was more proud than Chadrack Lufile, who said there was no conflicting emotions on Saturday. It’s family over everything, including alma mater.
“I’ll be honest with you, I came here for my brother to cheer him on and support him,” Chadrack Lufile said. “I’m proud of him coming to my homecourt where I played. Putting 13 and 10 on Gregg Marshall’s bigs is kind of a big deal.”
The Shockers’ four-man rotation at center had problems throughout the game keeping Elijah Lufile off the offensive glass, as he grabbed five offensive rebounds. It was a reminiscent of what Chadrack Lufile used to do for the Shockers, as he averaged 5.9 points and 5.0 rebounds during his senior year in the 2013-14 season.
“I need to talk to their strength coach down at Oral Roberts,” Marshall said in reference to Elijah Lufile. “Maybe it’s just the genes. Chadrack isn’t a small guy, but I think (Elijah) is much more vertical than Chadrack. He can really get off the ground and is strong and as big as he is, he caused some problems for us.”
The two Lufile brothers were standing together in the bowels of Koch Arena after the game when Marshall walked by and gave Elijah a fist bump. Chadrack notified him that was the ultimate sign of respect from his former coach.
“That meant a lot to me because I know a lot about Gregg Marshall,” Elijah Lufile said. “He’s a very intense coach and he’s been to the Final Four. I respect him a lot as a person and as a coach. He’s just a great guy and I’m glad I had the chance to meet him.”
While Chadrack Lufile may have been rooting for his brother during the game, that didn’t mean he couldn’t relive his glory days as a Shocker before and after. He had fun walking around and seeing familiar faces, posing for pictures and catching up with people he hasn’t seen since he graduated in 2014.
He says WSU fans and Koch Arena will always hold a special place in his heart.
“My hands are sweating,” Chadrack Lufile said. “I remember getting off the plane and I was telling my lady that there’s a lot of love around here and a lot of memories. Every time I step off and touch this ground, my palms start sweating. Coming back into the gym, it was like I was walking out of that locker room again and stepping on the court.”
Elijah, the youngest of four Lufile brothers, hopes to join his three older brothers as professional basketball players some day. Chadrack is playing in Saudi Arabia on the same team as former WSU teammate Cleanthony Early; Meshack is playing in Romania and Abednego is playing in the family’s home country, Canada.
After watching Chadrack jumpstart his career at WSU in his two years, Elijah was finally able to make his own memory on the court at Koch Arena — even if it was just for one game. And it meant the world to him that he was able to do so in front of his brother.
“You get homesick sometimes and you wish your family could be there to watch every game, but that’s not going to happen, especially when you’re from a different country like us,” Elijah Lufile said. “I was so excited for (Chadrack) to have the opportunity to see me play and to be reunited with him. That’s the best feeling.”