It’s no secret that the Maryland Terrapins are hot on the trail for a few 2014 big men, one of them being Riverdale Baptist and DC Assault (AAU) center Chinanu Onuaku. Brother of former Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku, the 6’10, 225-pound center has shot up recruiting boards after an excellent summer in which he showed quite a bit of improvement. Onuaku’s DC Assault team was declared the best team in the nation by some sites, but regardless, he has played a crucial role in that happening. So what’s great about Onuaku, what’s bad about Onuaku? Let’s find out.
Strengths: Big body, Rebounding, Hands, Passing Ability, Blocking
No way around it, Onuaku is first and foremost a big body. In the Adidas Nations tournament, Onuaku went up against big men like Kevon Looney and Jahlil Okafor, and while he wasn’t noticeably larger than either, he didn’t look remotely out of place. I’m not entirely sure he’s finished growing, either, and I have little to no concern about his ability to add on weight (his shoulders and arms are already large). He also has some pretty long arms, which come in handy when he’s swatting balls away.
One of the more frustrating aspects of scouting big men is seeing one with the right frame but an inability to use it on the block. That’s not the case with Onuaku on offense or defense. On the offensive end, Onuaku plays with his back to the basket for the most part, and isn’t afraid to get physical in the paint if the opportunity arises. He has a pretty solid baby hook, and will take a second backing down a defender before employing it. It’s a skill I can only see improving, as it’s really difficult to block.
On the defensive end, it’s more of the same. Onuaku doesn’t cede much ground in the paint thanks to his frame, and does a very good job of timing his jumps to contest every shot. I have yet to see him bite on a pump fake; more likely, he’ll block a shot that ends up being a goaltending. Still, as a one-on-one defender with bigs in the paint, Onuaku showed absolutely no issues making life tough for the opposition. That’s something you want to see.
One of the more fundamental aspects of his game that goes overlooked is his passing ability. Onuaku knows how to find an open man when he gets the ball, and I saw him make a couple pretty outlet passes after bringing down a board (one of which was to Melo Trimble). That vision should come in handy when he starts facing more and more double teams because of his skills down low.
Onuaku’s blocking and rebounding abilities are obviously one of the reasons he’s such a heralded recruit, and I’ll have to agree. With his size and length, no one’s shot is safe. He’s also a tremendous rebounder, as he seems to want every board and rarely gives up on a shot. He’ll be going after every ball and fighting for caroms down low the entire game, which is something you want to see.
Weaknesses: Motor (Sometimes), Offensive Game, Body Language
Onuaku has a lot of positives, but one of them is not always his body language. There are times where he becomes visibly frustrated when a play or call doesn’t go his way, and his hustle up and down the court is questionable. It’s not all the time, but it’s not something you want to see. Ideally, he shows enough mental fortitude to continue playing even when he gets called for a foul, or slips up on the court.
That’s not to say that Onuaku is remotely aloof (the worst word to hear involving a big man). Onuaku is actually very feisty on the court, and that’s where the frustration might stem from. Getting his emotions more under control, but not ridding himself of that fire to play the game, will be key to his development.
The other issue I saw was his offensive game, which still needs some work. He’s actually very good at filling lanes correctly and running the floor, but he does have to add some moves to his offensive repertoire on the chopping block. Onuaku has a bit of a jump shot from a few feet out, but college coaches won’t be chomping at the bit to let him take it. His form is odd, but it’s consistent (I saw him connect on a three pointer), meaning there’s a good chance he’ll get better in that regard.
Onuaku has to develop one or two more post moves to be considered a real threat, and that’s just work ethic for big men with hands like his. If he can put in hours at the gym and expand a bit, as well as a continued improvement on his jump shot, then Onuaku might not be an afterthought on offense for long. He’s also got to do a better job of demanding the ball down low. Considering the confidence shows with his jump shot, there should be no reason why he doesn’t call for the ball in the paint and initiate the offense straight away.
Onuaku is an impressive big man, and one the Maryland Terrapins would love to have. Goodluck Okonoboh is probably their priority, but with the prospect of landing him dimming by the day, Onuaku could be a very solid consolation prize. On the defensive end, he could come in and contribute immediately, and he’ll definitely surprise you with his offensive game.
He also has one thing the Terps need most: size. His big body would give Maryland a legit big man to groom and utilize for the next few years, should they land him.
Some highlights below:
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