Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New-Look Nwankwo Narrows It Down To Six

Jonathon Nwankwo has gone from his homeland of Nigeria to New York to Florida, capping off his summer with tournaments in Las Vegas and Johnson City, N.Y. outside Binghamton.

The 6-foot-9 forward's game has come a long way in both a figurative and literal sense.

Watching him recently, one would have difficulty recognizing Nwankwo as the same player you saw at Scanlan in December.

He's incorporated a drop step.

 He's rapidly evolved into a dependable threat with a feathery hook from both hands. Nwankwo has been powering up more, finishing with a ferocity and fronting anyone standing between him and the rim.

 A Victory Prep (FL) transfer via Scanlan (N.Y.), Nwankwo changes floors as swiftly and effectively as any 240-pounder on the recruiting agora.

Now Nwankwo, a new arrival at Victory Rock Prep in Florida, has trimmed a list once akin to a 7-year-old's Christmas gift list down to six schools.

"Minnesota, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Rice,  Temple and Fordham," said Nwankwo rattling off his final six.

Word around the campfire has it, Arizona State is making a late push for the rising senior.

 Minnesota, with assistant coach and staunch New York recruiting presence Kimani Young, have been in steady pursuit and are using their powers of persuasion.

During the final few weeks of summer '14, which Nwankwo capped off with a BCANY championship playing for Hudson Valley, the big fella began drawing more double and triple teams.

Nwankwo's size and wingspan alone have become adequate tools for rim protection, though he's been more aggressive blocking, manipulating, and altering the trajectory of anything inside the paint.

Nwankwo thrives with structure.

Developing a back-to-the-basket game and becoming the primary beneficiary of Hudson Valley's decision to kick it inside, Nwankwo dropped 19 points and tore down 11 rebounds during a thorough 108-61 drubbing of Nassau during the BCANY tournament.

It was the sequel of Nwankwo's Vegas eruption.

The Class of 2015 Nwankwo  played with a House of Sports team drenched with mid-major targets such as  6-foot-1 guard Rickey McGill and 6-foot-6 senior strongman Kai Mitchell, both of Spring Valley HS (N.Y.).

While showcase tournaments and All-Star games tend be infected with an individualist brand of basketball and sullied by streetball-esque flair, Nwankwo spent the summer stamping his brand name as a high-efficiency scorer.

AAU coach Andy Borman describes him as a guy who "doesn't waste possessions" because he's a decent free throw shooter with big, soft hands.

"When we were in Vegas and we played Rashard Lewis' team out of Texas and we played an Under Armour team out of Georgia, he ate those guys alive," Borman said.

 "Put him in the right place and feed him the ball, and he will produce."

Setting expectations and keeping the bar at sky-scraper tiers has lifted Nwankwo into a different stratosphere.

He's developed that nose for the rim, which he so lacked during the start of the season at Scanlan.

Coaches such as Borman often remind Nwankwo of his immense size.

 Borman reminds Nwankwo of his potency to impact every play.

The only button Borman had to press was dropping simple lines like, "Jon you're better than this."

Now, he's better than everyone projected. What began as a project-in-progress has progressed into a gargantuan who is jarringly athletic, moving and running the floor in ways few bigs throughout the nation can replicate.

Nwankwo's expanded offensive repertoire has transferred him from from a low to mid-major target to one of the most heavily-courted, low-risk recruits in the country.

"He's so damn coachable," Borman said.

"You know he wants it because he left his home to go to a prep school in Florida, where he doesn't have any of the comforts of being at home. That's how much he wants to improve and that's how dedicated he is. The proof's in the pudding."

Nwankwo said the opportunity to play against top-tier competition and improve his basketball IQ helped accelerate his move to Florida.

He'll be in an environment where he can grow.

He'll compete against other super-sized high-major bigs of his type.

He won't have to labor through brutal New York winters or the suddenly watered down Bronx competition.

Nwankwo was a storming presence in the BCANY tournament because of how easily he assimilated to Hudson Valley's frenetic, souped-up offensive attack.

His newfound proclivity for crashing the boards and sky in for putbacks kept smaller frontlines on their heels.

His interior presence drew kick-outs to a surplus of shooters, including 6-foot-7 Notre Dame-bound 3-point ace Matt Ryan.

"It's been fun and it's all a chance to get better," said Nwankwo of his hectic summer travel schedule.

"I'm excited to be here because it's a new challenge for me."