Nnanna Egwu got a late start to basketball, and he was set back last summer by back surgery. But he has improved by leaps and bounds. No longer a gangly youngster, the 6'-9" Egwu has worked hard to build his size and strength.
"Right now, I'm about 237 to 240. I'm looking at (getting up to) 245-250. I eat four meals a day."
Egwu is acclimating rapidly to Illinois and his new teammates. One of seven newcomers, he is learning quickly how to adapt his game to his new team.
"It's great. We finally came down here, and we've adjusted real well. We're going to classes and finding our routine for things. It's been fun playing, getting to know these guys, getting to know their games. Playing against them and seeing how they play and how I fit in with them."
The adjustment period has gone well for all the newcomers.
"I think we fit in well. Each has a position to contribute. They way we're playing, I think we're developing very well.
"Especially four of us being from Chicago and being able to go against one another the last four years, I think we've adjusted very well as a group, and even better as a whole team."
Egwu is a coach's delight; he does what he is told. It has helped his game evolve at a rapid rate. It also helps that he is a good athlete who loves the game.
"The advice I got before I came here was two things, run the floor and rebounding. So far, that's what I've been able to do."
The St. Ignatius star is hungry for playing time, as are his fellow freshmen.
"That's definitely the goal of each of us, to get ourselves into position to play next season. That's what creates such a competitive environment around here. We each know there's playing time open, and we're trying to get that."
With word that Ibrahima Djimde has been cleared academically, Egwu was asked his thoughts on having another big man inside helping out.
"His body and his rebounding ability can really help us, especially in the Big 10."
While both Egwu and Djimde are native Africans, there is no special connection guaranteed by that fact.
"Different country, so there's not much to relate."
Egwu is eager for the Illini's August trip to play five games in Italy.
"I'm excited to go there early August. I can't wait; it's gonna be fun for all of us to go against European talent overseas. It's great for us to develop as teammates."
That trip will help all Illini get a head start on the 2011-12 season. With all the newcomers, the extra practice time will help the team develop quicker. And that is a special benefit to Egwu, who soaks up new experiences like a sponge.