When I first met Nnanna Egwu, he was a 6-foot-9 freshman going into his sophomore year of high school. I played against him and his St. Ignatius team during a summer league scrimmage at his former Alma Mater. Back then he was a quiet kid, he didn’t say much but was undoubtedly hard to miss.
That was 5 years ago. Today, Egwu is a 6-11 junior and the lead big man for the Illinois basketball team.
Egwu has developed his skill set and defensive abilities to be a dominating factor in the Big Ten conference this year. His freshman year he was the backup for now NBA center Myers Leonard and averaged about 10 minutes per game.
Let’s fast forward about 7 months from then. Last season, Egwu was the starting center, averaging about 25 minutes per game, limited to foul trouble, and would finish the 2012-2013 season with a team-high 49 blocks.
This is leaps ahead of what most analysts projected him to be. When Egwu first signed to the University of Illinois he was considered to be a “project” with poor hands and not much offensive ability. He proved many wrong in the final game of the Illini’s 2012-2013 season against Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He faced frontcourt players Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson who had a combined 12 points in the game. Egwu put up 12 points alone and pulled down 12 rebounds of his own.
Not saying that the success of the Fighting Illini rests on Nnanna Egwu’s double digit scoring and rebounding every night, but we are expecting a lot from the Chicago native for the 2013-2014 season. (No pressure of course) Being only 1 of 3 returning players from the previous season, Egwu knows that he is a key factor in the leadership department. He is an upperclassman now and he must do what Myers Leonard, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson did for him.
With this season having another guard heavy roster, he almost has no choice but to step up. Since the 2012-2013 season had a somewhat similar roster, he is familiar and comfortable being the only dominating inside presence.
As the season progresses there is no doubt in my mind that his defensive numbers will continuously progress. His offensive numbers will naturally improve and don’t be surprised if he shoots a jump shot or two. It is always smarter to look ahead and if Egwu is fortunate enough to land a spot on an NBA roster, his versatility and athleticism will put him at the forward/center position. With that being said, Illini coaches will have no problem showcasing those abilities.
Egwu still has a lot of work to do but his future is bright. Coach Groce and his staff have put in a lot of work this summer and from that there will be a lot of improvements. The only official way to be sure is by tuning in October 24th when the Fighting Illini take on McKendree University for the season opener.