Nnanna Egwu is a 6'-10" center who is an intriguing prospect and special individual. The St. Ignatius big man was an extremely raw basketball prospect at a young age, especially on the offensive end. Colleges saw the potential, including Illinois. The Illini pursued him heavily and were able to land his commitment.
In an age where young kids are playing basketball all over the country during grade school, Egwu did not play competitive basketball until he attended high school.
"I always liked the game and was a fan of it. My grade school didn't have sports, so I didn't have a chance to play there. When I went to high school at St. Ignatius, I wanted to play and see what I could do."
Learning the game at an older age, Egwu was behind in some of the skill development that was second nature to other kids his age. What does he feel he has improved on most throughout his career?
"My offensive game and shooting the ball."
Egwu gives credit to three coaches in particular for helping him develop his offensive repertoire.
"Coach (Mike) Mullins with the Wolves, along with coach (Rich) Kehoe and coach Gryzwa at St. Ignatius have kept working with me after practice and before practice. They also gave me encouragement to shoot the ball. I thank all of them for their leadership and for their confidence that I could shoot the ball and helping me get better at doing it."
The summer between his junior and senior year, Egwu suffered a herniated disc injury that forced him to sit out three months without playing basketball. This was tough for someone who loves to be on the court.
"It was kind of disappointing because I really felt my game was coming on in the spring. To have the injury really set me back. It was frustrating to deal with the pain and not be able to play basketball. It was frustrating in many ways. I had the surgery and got myself back to where I was."
There were two teams Egwu was a major contributor to over his high school career. He helped put the St. Ignatius basketball program on the map. The senior loved playing for his coaches and with his teammates during the high school season.
"The last three years, I have been with coach Kehoe at the varsity level. I have enjoyed playing against different players. I am going to miss playing at St. Ignatius but am lucky to have the experience."
During the spring and summer, Egwu honed his skills playing for Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves. This was an opportunity for him to get more great coaching and play with many of the top players in Chicago.
"I will never forget playing for Coach Mullins. He made us better as a team and individuals. It was fun playing with Tracy Abrams, Frank Kaminski, David Sobolewski, Jacob Williams, and all of them. They were great teammates and great people. We got better as a team because we worked hard."
One of the great experiences for Egwu and his St. Ignatius teammates was to play at the Assembly Hall in the Shootout at the Hall and summer team camps.
"It was really great for me and my teammates to get the experience to travel down there and play on a college court where all these great players have played before."
Egwu is such an intriguing prospect because, if you look at how far he has come in just four years, it makes you believe he could make an even bigger jump at the collegiate level.
On defense, Egwu is a monster blocking shots and anticipating what his opponent is going to do. He does not leave the floor until the ball leaves his opponents hands. He rebounds at a high level by using his quickness and smarts, reading where the ball is going to come off the glass.
On the offensive end, he was extremely raw early in his career but has improved leaps and bounds to the point where he is a legitimate offensive threat to score. His skill set has been enhanced tremendously.
He has good footwork in the post, and he has the ability to shoot the jump hook over either shoulder. He also started to show the ability to face up and hit a 15 foot jump shot with some consistency.
Out of the post, Egwu can read the double team and find an open teammate for the shot. He is an excellent passer for a big man. The single aspect that stands out the most in the senior's game is his ability to run the floor. He sprints down the floor every possession and makes a point to beat his man down and get easy points.
"It started my freshman year. It is now kind of like a habit. It is a way to get easy buckets at the other end and get scoring opportunities for yourself."
Egwu talked about what he believes are the strengths in his game and where he can improve.
"My strengths are the ability to block shots and run the floor. If I continue to block shots, run the floor and rebound, I think I will always be good. I have to continue to improve on scoring and defending on the perimeter at times."
One question many fans have inquired about over the past year was what happened to the trademark goggles he wore on the court?
"This year I wanted to try contacts and see how it goes. It was tough sometimes with goggles, getting them knocked off. I like the contacts. It gives me better vision. I do miss the goggles though."
Goggles or no goggles, Egwu was wanted by many teams throughout the country. It all started toward the beginning of his sophomore year, when he received an unexpected call.
"In October of my sophomore year, I got a call from one of the assistant coaches at St. Ignatius telling me Oregon State had offered. That was first time I saw any interest from colleges. It caught me off guard. It was kind of weird having colleges contact me."
Egwu realized this was really a big deal when he was playing with the Wolves and looked around to see many of the top coaches in country watching him play.
"During the summer, when I played AAU for the first time, it was pretty fun to see all these coaches you see on TV in the same gym as you."
Big 10 schools started to come calling soon after Oregon State.
"Toward the end of my sophomore year coaches at Wisconsin and Purdue started contacting me."
He talked about the first time he met with his future head coach Bruce Weber.
"Coach Weber came to my school the winter of my sophomore year. He talked about my game and tried to learn a lot about me. He told me a lot about Illinois too."
Egwu built a great relationship with the staff and felt comfortable around them.
"It was really good and free flowing. I talked to them like I talked with my friends. It was kind of like your family. I could talk to them pretty much about anything."
Egwu would be making his collegiate decision before his junior season kicked off. At this time, Mt. Carmel point guard Tracy Abrams was the only member of the class of 2011 committed to play for the Illini. Abrams wanted the big man to join him.
"Around when I was going to decide, he contacted me and talked to me about the great opportunity we had if I joined him at Illinois."
The decision came down to Illinois and Purdue. Egwu had a difficult decision to make.
"It was by far one of the toughest choices. Coach (Matt) Painter is a great coach. There were a lot of things there that could have benefitted me, but I loved Coach Weber, the coaching staff and the team itself. And the feeling to play for your home state and help them win future championships."
How did he come to his final choice?
"It was pretty close. I really liked Purdue and Illinois. It was kind of like a gut feeling. Illinois was where I needed to go to."
On October 9th, 2009, Egwu made his decision known to the coaches and public.
"I held a press conference after school. I went into one of the athletic directors' offices after school and called Coach Weber to tell him I was coming to join his program. The toughest part was telling Coach Painter and telling him I wasn't. It was kind of bittersweet."
What was Coach Weber's reaction?
"He was excited. It was a relief to him."
Egwu said there were two major factors in why he wanted to be a member of the Illini.
"It gave me a great opportunity to win championships and play for a great coach."
In a few months, he will be down in Champaign and playing for the coach and team he has been committed to for a long time. He is excited to get on campus.
"I am looking forward to playing against top players and getting myself and teammates better."
Egwu plans to major in Business at Illinois and as of now plans to wear number 25 on his orange and blue uniform. The big man is part of what many have described as a special class for Illinois. He discussed each of his fellow class of 2011 commitments Abrams, Mike Shaw, Mycheal Henry and Devin Langford.
"Tracy has worked so hard to be a natural point guard. He has a great ability to pass and shoot the ball. With Mike, he is able to rebound, score and play defense.
Mycheal is a great shooter and is ready for the college game with his shooting touch and ability to rebound. What I hear about Devin Langford from Alabama is he is a long lanky small forward that can rebound and handle the ball."
There will be a lot of expectations for Egwu and his classmates, but he is ready for it. He says he has only one goal on the court while at Illinois.
"I want to be a national champion. I want to be able to leave being able to say I was a national champion. If that can happen, it would be a great feeling."