By Joe Henricksen
It was at the Reebok Headliner Camp at Attack Athletics Center where you can really see it, where you can really appreciate it. It's there where you see the 6-9 Nnanna Egwu participate in good 'ol fashioned drills at various stations throughout the gym. It's there where you can see the insane strides the St. Ignatius sophomore has made in such little time.
Before the games began and the perimeter players took over in the up-and-down scrimmage featuring players who were all unfamiliar with one another, there were two hours of drills. In this setting, where the station drills resemble a little old school Five Star Basketball Camp with Howard Garfinkle, Egwu shows the improved skills he's made as a player and what he can become. More importantly, he shows just how much upside he has and how far he could go.
When the games began, as is usually the case, the big men are lost, very rarely see the ball and become less and less of a factor. But having watched Egwu move from station to station, it's abundantly clear he has so much more room to get better. He wants to get better. And he will get better, especially after he just has more seasoning as a player and game experience. The more he plays, the more he gets up and down in game situations, the better he will become. There are so many young players, standouts the Hoops Report and others rave about as young prospects, who simply plateau at one point in their high school career. That's why Egwu is so intriguing. It's a cliché, but he hasn't even scratched the surface.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report has dedicated plenty of space lately, right here in this blog, on the progress of Egwu. It was a little less than two years ago, June 6, 2007 to be exact, when Egwu finally picked up the game of a basketball. Yes, only two years ago. He was barely a project. When the Hoops Report's next Class of 2011 rankings come out next month, Egwu will be climbing again. That's how much the Hoops Report thinks of the upside Egwu brings to the table. Having not played basketball, he has fewer bad habits to break. Plus, everything in the game is so fresh and new to him. He's like a sponge, taking in anything and everything coaches throw his way, whether it be St. Ignatius coach Rich Kehoe or his AAU coach, Mike Mullins of the Illinois Wolves. He wants to learn, he wants to get better and he sees the progress he is making and, with it, comes added confidence. The Hoops Report can't recall a player who has come this far in such a short time.
No, he's not even close to a finished product. The casual basketball fan and observer may very well leave a gym wondering what the fuss is on a given day. He's still awfully raw on the offensive end, sometimes even ineffective. Yes, he will struggle maintaining his position in the post, getting pushed out. And his footwork is certainly a work in progress. However, for comparison sake, he's definitely ahead as a player and prospect as current Illinois freshman Stan Simpson at the same stage of their careers. Egwu has a developing jump-hook. His 15-foot jumper looks much better, more fluid than it did 12 or even six months ago. When he runs the floor it's almost comical that he's 6-9 and growing with how fast he gets up and down. He has that unique combination of size, mobility and coordination. Defensively he's already a presence in blocking and altering shots with his long arms and timing.
Egwu, who currently sports offers from Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern and DePaul to name a few, will be visiting Illinois on Wednesday on an unofficial visit. With big men at such a premium, Egwu will be a hot commodity as his game evolves and his coachability and love for the game shines through.
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