Nnanna Egwu has been playing basketball less than three years. Yet the 6'-9" St. Ignatius prospect has a love of the game and hunger to improve, allowing him to develop rapidly. Illinois received his commitment after being impressed with his overall skill set and potential.
Egwu had a good junior high school season, and he was making an excellent impression in spring AAU ball playing with the Illinois Wolves until a hip problem set him back.
"It's osteonecrosis, inflammation of the bone or something like that." Egwu explains. "I'm not a doctor."
The biggest frustration is the difficulty finding a cure. After a month of inactivity, he is playing again while doctors seek a solution.
"The hip is pretty much the same. The pain is about the same. It hasn't gotten worse, and it hasn't gotten better. I've just got to play through it.
"It's not gonna get worse from playing through it. Sitting out doesn't help at all. I'm doing stretching and taking medication. We'll see what happens."
Egwu lost his conditioning as well as his some of his quickness and leaping ability through his ordeal. He is getting a few minutes at a time with the Wolves this month, but it is a slow and painstaking process.
"It definitely is. But if I play in the games, little by little I can get back in shape. I can get a few minutes here and there."
Joe Henricksen of the City/Suburban Hoops Report has been impressed with Egwu's development. Speaking on WDWS radio, he has seen a sharp dropoff after the problem began.
"He is not the same player. People who go watch him now would not be impressed, to be blunt. But I saw this kid make huge strides through his junior year of high school and the early part of spring for the AAU events.
"He just looked terrific. He was beating big men down the floor, getting after it on the boards, and his shot (was improved). He's a difference-maker defensively, with an offensive game that's still evolving. He was making great strides, was finishing better, and the things you wanted him to be more aggressive with on the offensive end he was doing."
"He's just not the player he was. When he gets off the bench, if you watch it closely after sitting for awhile, he has a wince on his face. Just a little bit of pain as it stiffens up on him. It's hard for him to get in any type of flow and use the strength he has because that hip flexor has really caused him problems."
Egwu has minimal chance of impressing the national talent evaluators this month. Thus, Illini fans must expect his national ranking to suffer. Henricksen says his long-term potential is still good.
"We'll see what happens to his national rankings. He's limited in minutes and production. I have no concerns about him. He's still developing as a big man, particularly on the offensive end. But he's gonna be just fine down the road.
"Right now he's really been hampered, and that's too bad because he needed repetition and minutes on the floor to catch up with the speed of the game having not played much basketball in his career."
Egwu acknowledges the rankings problem but has bigger concerns.
"The bad part is that it has happened for the summer season. But the high school season is the most important. I want to be ready for St. Ignatius so we can see how high we can go at State."
He feels his high school team has potential to be good this year.
"Defensively we really came along. Offensively, we haven't been scoring many points, but by the season we hope to do better."
Egwu's AAU team continues to win despite his limited playing time. In fact, they won even when guard Chasson Randle was playing ball overseas with the USA 18 and Under team and Illinois commitment Tracy Abrams was slowed by recurring ankle sprains.
"That's the good thing about this team. If I'm hurt, we're still good. If Chasson's gone, we're still good. We're a team, and that's how we win."
Egwu is glad he made his college decision early so he doesn't have to worry how his setback might influence his college opportunities. He anticipates the ruggedness of Big 10 ball, so the hard worker is preparing for life in the paint.
"I just keep working hard to put on weight. In the Big 10 you have to be strong to compete. I weigh 230. I hope to put on a few more pounds by September."