Nnanna Egwu is a 6'-10" center from St. Ignatius High School. He is a top 100 player nationally and was rewarded for his great career with the opportunity to play in the Next All-American Classic in his home state against many of the top players in the country. He more than held his own, and InsideIllini was there to document the Illinois commitment's week.
Egwu had the opportunity to play in several all-star games throughout the Midwest but decided to play in this particular game.
"I saw it as an opportunity to meet different players from around the nation. You get to hear about them but never really get to see them play."
The week began with the players' arrival from around the country. They were given a tour of Chicago, something already familiar to Egwu.
"Most of the stuff I am used to seeing, but the guys from around the nation got to see what I am privileged to see every day, like the Sears Tower and other skyscrapers."
The first day of practice was a short workout at Whitney Young High School and focused on skill work and post drills. Several years ago this would have been a major deficit in Egwu's game, but now it is a strength.
He has gone through these types of drills many times with the Illinois Wolves and St. Ignatius. In this type of setting, the big man says he can also learn from the other top big men and add to his game.
"It is fun to watch the other players show their skills and see what kind of stuff they have. You can learn from them and what they do and try to incorporate that into your game. It has been interesting to watch these different players and how they play the game."
Another intriguing reason for playing in this game was to spend time with fellow Wolves's teammates Frank Kaminsky and David Sobolewski. They are two of Egwu's closest friends. He has grown up with the Benet Academy pair, spending many hours together on the road.
"It is definitely fun. I have spent three years during the spring and summer with these guys, traveling around the country. It is definitely good to be around them and makes me more comfortable."
Day two began with an early morning practice in Lisle. The Illini signee showed his hustle and defensive tenacity in the drills, where he was asked to run back hard on defense against two offensive players. He was the most consistent player at defending the two-on-one break by playing angles and using his length.
"We did a lot of 3 on 2, 2 on 1 drills. We put some sets in for the game with some continuous motion in about two hours, so it was good."
In the afternoon session, Egwu continued bringing energy and effort. It was obvious Egwu was putting in the extra effort to get better every possession and be a competitor. His 15 foot mid-range jump shot is becoming consistent and will be a threat when he gets to Champaign. He played strong on the interior by blocking shots and fighting hard on the boards. Egwu ran the floor hard and showed he is a finisher.
In the practices with his Got Now team, he was competing against top 100 big men Zach Price and Adjehi Baru. The future Illini center enjoyed the challenge of going against other top big men from around the county.
"It is actually pretty fun. Getting to guard them and being guarded by them is a great challenge. It is only going to make you better."
Friday night, Egwu and the other All-Americans were honored in a black tie dinner and award ceremony, where each player was awarded with a detailed ring in tribute to each of their great high school careers and being selected to this game.
"It recognized what we have all done over the last four years, and all our accomplishments. The rings represented that and a lot more."
The final day before the game would consist of a scrimmage between the two teams. He continued to show the intangibles that make him such an outstanding player.
He ran the floor hard to get easy points, set crisp screens and contributed as a help defender. On the boards, there was no one better in the scrimmage. He out rebounded everyone on both teams and was active on the offensive end including an impressive tip dunk.
Egwu as always was modest about his play.
"I think I played all right, especially not playing in competition for awhile."
In these all-star type settings, many times players try to do flashy dunks or spectacular passes to make the highlight reel. Egwu is not about that.
"Everyone wants to make dunks and do nice passes and stuff, but someone has to play good defense and rebound because the game can't be as competitive as it needs to be if someone is not doing those."
He is looking forward to bringing these attributes to Illinois next year.
"I am definitely excited. I have a chance to go out and prove myself for playing time. I am looking forward to getting down there with the other players and show them what I bring to the team."
Egwu closed out his in style with an impressive performance during the actual game. He ran the floor hard, was active on the interior and had another outstanding day on the glass. He continued his hot streak with his 15 foot jumper. His signature moment of the game was completing a monster two-handed slam through a foul for an and-1.
The St. Ignatius senior was the leading scorer in a game that featured many big-time point producers with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 steals. Egwu was satisfied with how the game went.
"It was pretty good. I got a chance to play with a bunch of Division 1 players and get up and down the court with them."
Egwu proved throughout the week he can hold his own and out-perform some of the top incoming freshman in the country. He will bring defense, energy, and intensity into the Illini program from day one.