He didn't truly gain a national foothold until his rising junior summer, but Chinanu Onuaku made up for lost time in hurried fashion. The big man always bore the look of a center, using his long arms to snag rebounds and block shots. The younger brother of former Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku, his bloodlines also suggested big things down the road.
Onuaku entered the 2013 travel circuit on the cusp of high-major offers, but his offense lagged his defense considerably. That led to more intense scouting during the spring, rather than coaches merely attending his games to be seen by him.
He put it together at June's NBPA Top 100 Camp. Competing against an elite assortment of big men, he was one of the hardest working and most effective rebounders and shotblockers at the camp. Coaches weren't allowed to attend that event, but at least in our minds, he had arrived.
Onuaku did compete in front of coaches at the Reebok Breakout Classic in July, and though not scintillating he mostly lived up to billing.
His recruiting process intensified. Louisville jumped in with an offer in August, and he also became seriously involved with Miami, Maryland and Georgetown. He ultimately cut his list to the Cardinals, Hurricanes and Hoyas, and he committed to Rick Pitino's program in early October.
Onuaku doesn't merely possess a defensive mentality; he owns a defensive body as well. At 6-10, 232 pounds, he already carries a reasonable height/weight ratio for college and has plenty of time to carve up his physique.
He's at his best wearing cinder blocks and setting up shop at the rim. The more time he spends contesting interior shot attempts, the more effective he'll be. He utilizes his long arms for rejects and also looms as a potentially outstanding defensive rebounder. With size, power, length and the desire to make the game simple, Onuaku could develop into a formidable specialist who exacts a toll from even the most high-powered college scoring machines.
He also plays within himself on offense. He doesn't do a whole lot of anything there, to be honest, but at least he doesn't put on a Kevin Durant costume and parade around as a tall wing. That particular vice has reached near-epidemic status on the grassroots level, and Onuaku serves as a refreshing throwback to an era when big guys were big guys.
And yet, Onuaku must become more involved offensively. Even if he never develops into a consistent scoring option, he must improve his finishing tools and become more adept at drawing fouls and applying pressure to his frontcourt opponents.
Additionally, when he didn't perform as well at the Reebok event, his so-so conditioning also came into play. In fairness, both the pace of those games and their sheer volume appeared to wear down numerous big men. This is less of a concern for his long-term future, given the inevitable conditioning regimen he'll enjoy (although "enjoy" may not be the most apt term) at Louisville.
He also lacks elite athleticism and can be out-quicked by some opponents. Thus, foul trouble could arise as a problem early in his career.
Onuaku should become a fine contributor for the Cardinals, and he'd have fit anywhere that could surround him with elite offensive talent. Given the number of scorers and athletes who habitually make their way to U-L, he'll be able to focus on the areas he excels.
Moreover, the Cardinals likely can rest easy that they have a four-year center around whom to construct upcoming frontcourt plans. As long as his defense and rebounding translate to the next level, he's almost guaranteed to win meaningful minutes.