For a young man that has only been playing basketball for three years, Uche Echefu has made amazing progress. Most who pick up the sport relatively late like he did are primarily run/jump athletes at this stage of development, but that's not the case for Stu Vetter's star big man. To say that he is skilled would not be overstating things. That, however, is not meant to suggest that the 6-8 220-pounder isn't a big time athlete as well, because he is.
The first thing you notice when watching him on the court is his high level of activity and explosion off of the hardwood. At the same time, most of his movements are very controlled and refined, as dictated by the college like system/atmosphere Vetter employs. Those traits were on display very early in the exhibition and we got a great feel for just what kind of impact player he is when watching him take on a 7-footer.
Despite the fact that his opponent, who is also a native African, was a few years removed from organized basketball, he was still in terrific shape. His length obviously could have posed significant problems for the Uche man, but Scout.com's #10 PF proved up to the task.
One time down the court Echefu set up on the block and turned baseline for a high arcing half hook that found nothing but the bottom of the net. Another time, he out-quicked his man on a basket cut from the top of the key for an easy lay-up. Then on the subsequent possession (in maybe his most impressive play of the night)…he came down on the break, rose high into the air, and slammed right over his helpless opponent.
The reason why that wasn't DEFINITELY his most impressive play was because the young man flashed perimeter skills that were even more polished than we when we saw him this summer. He showed the ability to knock down the long-range shots, nailing 3/4 from three-point land. He demonstrated the ability to take his man off the dribble, twice beating opponents that came out to defend to defend him to the basket for easy lay-ups. He also showed outstanding passing ability, finding guards cutting backdoor for lay-ups and kicking out of double teams. When the night was over, the young man had 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists in about three quarters of action. The only thing keeping him from being ranked in the top 10 in his class is his size. He'll need to get bigger and stronger to bang at the next level. In addition, he doesn't have a traditional center's height. That said, he plays with a fire that allows him to more than hold his own against bigger players. Furthermore, his game away from the post causes a match-up nightmare for opponents.
We asked Uche about his improved perimeter skills and he indicated that they were something he has spent a great deal of time on. "I've been working on my jumpshot and some of my perimeter moves," Echefu said. "I need to improve on my outside game. I need to improve both outside AND inside because I know college is another level. I need to be able to do both in order to be great there."
Speaking of college, Echefu is one of the most sought after players in the country at this point in time. However, he has put his recruitment on the backburner for now. "I'm going to concentrate on that (recruiting) and take my other visits after the season," Echefu said. "I just want to focus on my team right. I don't even know what other schools I want to visit yet."
He has already taken trips to Florida State and Michigan, with a number of schools (including Duke and Kentucky) still vying to get him on campus in the spring. When asked about his time in Ann Arbor he had nothing but glowing things to say. "It went really good." Echefu said. "I hung out mostly with Amadou Ba and Courtney Sims. I liked it a lot. Actually the most fun was went I went to see them play in the football game. I had a lot of fun down there."
While the glitz and glamour of campus visits is fun to be a part of, those aren't things that are going to sell Echefu on a particular university. Neither will basketball (on its own). "Academics are the most important thing," Echefu said. "I want to go into business. I just want to get my degree and get coached by a great coach. The schools that I'm dealing with are some of the top schools in the country, so it's difficult for me to choose.
Check back tomorrow for comments from Stu Vetter on his star pupil and an Uche Echefu photo gallery from the exhibition.