Nnana Egwu Improving By Leaps And Bounds

Big men are always the hardest to find and recruit for college basketball teams. They are few in number and often develop slower than other athletes. When you find a great one, everyone wants him. Illinois is seeking a post player for its 2011 recruiting class, and Nnana Egwu made an unofficial visit to check out the campus and facilities recently.

St. Ignatius sophomore Nnana Egwu is a slender 6'-9" athlete with minimal experience as a basketball player. But Joe Henricksen of the City/Suburban Hoops Report believes Nnana has outstanding potential.

"I've never seen a player who has improved as much in a short period of time," Henricksen explains. "He only picked up a basketball for the first time about two years ago. A lot of people didn't see him two years ago, but if they did they would say he didn't have a chance to be a Division 1 player. That's how raw he was as a basketball player. In two years, he has grown as much as a basketball player as anyone I've seen."

No one becomes a great player in just two years. The game of basketball is too complex to pick up everything that quickly. But his future appears extremely bright according to Henricksen.

"With Nnana, it's forecasting what he can become. He's a kid that really wants it. He's a kid that's bubbling over with enthusiasm because it's all new to him. He's seeing the rewards for all his hard work as he's improving at a rapid pace. He's liking it, and he's taking off with it."

Right now, Egwu is better defensively than offensively.

"One of the things I like to watch with kids over a course of 2-3 years is their progression. Are they plateauing, or are they still improving. The latter is the case with Nnana. The most important thing for him now to get on the floor, run up and down and get comfortable with the game, understand the game and its nuances, getting a good feel for things on both ends of the floor. It's gonna take some time.

"You cannot get over the rapid improvement and the strides he's made in such a short time. He has a presence defensively blocking shots. His timing is pretty good. He's very raw though on the offensive end. His back-to-the-basket on-the-block game is far away from being polished or developed.

"But, if he makes the same strides as he made the last two years until he's a freshman in college, by the time he's a sophomore, junior or senior in college he could be something special."

Henricksen has recently upgraded Egwu's class ranking from ninth to seventh best in the state of Illinois for 2011.

"I absolutely love him. He's gonna be a player who's not gonna come in right away as a freshman and be a huge factor as a college player. But his skills have improved so much. He's knocking down some face-up 15 foot jumpers. His timing has gotten so much better on both ends of the floor. His recognition of things is improving. But he's still got a ways to go."

Illinois has struggled on the boards in recent years due to having slender inside players in the Big 10 where physical strength and aggressiveness are commonplace. Egwu is not yet the kind of player who can bang in the post.

"His physicality will be a question mark for sure. I've heard some people say he's gonna be a garbage man and do a lot of the dirty work. Defensively, he may be that kind of guy due to his shot blocking ability. If he pops another inch or two to become 6'-10" or 6'-11", it's a different story. Then, he can get away with not being quite as physically strong.

"But he hasn't been in a college weight program, and he is very slender, very slim. Physical play is not real suited for him right now. But again, this is all based on what he can do in the future. He's gonna add weight, he's gonna add strength. He's never gonna be one of those big, huge guys like you see in the Big East."

Some slender players are fearful of contact and won't bang for rebounds and defensive positioning. Henricksen says Egwu will not back off despite his lack of bulk.

"He's still learning things like how to establish a solid base and trying to overcome some of the deficiencies a player has. That takes time. He will learn how to handle stronger, more physical players with time. He doesn't back away from it. Everything that's been thrown at him, he's like a sponge. I would not place the label of soft on him by any means.

"A big man with any size at all is hard to find. That's why Meyers Leonard was such a recruiting coup for Illinois. At every level, including Division 3, Division 2 and low Division 1, they're all looking for size. You'd like the nice balance. You'd like the tall, skilled 6'-10" kid and the 6'-8", 6'-9" bruising power forward. But by and large, you need to find big men.

"If you find one who can play, you snatch him up whether they're physical or whatever. There are no other big men in Illinois who you would really covet in that class. There's no big men in the class of 2012, the freshman class. You can go out of state and secure somebody. So that's why Nnana becomes a pretty high priority for the entire Big 10 because I think he'll end up playing in the Big 10."

With Leonard committed to the Illini for 2010 and few in-state bigs in the next couple classes, Egwu may become a priority for them. He could back up Leonard and continue his development while Leonard gets a majority of the minutes. Egwu could then take over as he matures.

Perhaps that is why Illinois was eager to have Egwu visit campus so early in his recruitment.

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