Sports

Enechionyia: ’I know I can get back’

The junior forward has struggled after a strong start to the season.

Obi Enechionyia’s first sports memories happened on the soccer field.

He started out as a goalkeeper and eventually became a forward. He wanted to score.

But in eighth grade, he started a growth spurt that took him from 6 feet tall to 6-feet-8-inches within two years. He played pickup and rec-league basketball, but decided to play seriously. Enechionyia remembers not being able to make a left-handed layup and scoring in the wrong basket during one of his first starts.

“I look back and laugh at it now, but at the time it wasn’t really funny,” the junior forward said.

Enechionyia wanted to earn an athletic scholarship and worked on his game to become a Top 100 prospect. Earlier this season, he distinguished himself as one of the best players in the American Athletic Conference. He won the NCAA.com Player of the Week Award for the week ending Nov. 27 and averaged 21 points per game through the Owls’ first seven games, including the Owls’ win against St. Joseph’s on Nov. 30, when he tied his career-high mark of 26 points for the third time. He said it was his best game of the season.

Fox Sports Radio host Jason McIntyre tweeted on Nov. 30 that Enechionyia was the “buzziest NBA draft name” three weeks into the season. CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein called Enechionyia the “best shooting big man that Fran Dunphy has ever coached” the next day.

In 13 conference games, the 6-foot-10-inch forward is averaging 10.5 points and shooting 36.4 percent from the floor. Sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. surpassed him as the team’s leading scorer on Jan. 25.

“Everything I shot went in the basket,” Enechionyia said of his early-season stretch. “I know I can get back to that point again. … I felt really comfortable. I think teams got used to how I played and got more prepared to guard me. But I know I can get back to that point.”

“It’s not really a big deal to me that I fell off a little bit, had a couple bad games.”

In high school, Enechionyia played one-on-one games with his older brother Nnamdi, a redshirt-junior swingman at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, and his younger brother Chuchu, a freshman guard and forward at Virginia Military Institute. Nnamdi said the three were so competitive that games usually ended with one brother throwing the ball at another.

Nnamdi was sitting a few rows behind Temple’s bench at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to see Obi score 16 points, grab eight rebounds and block

Junior forward Obi Enechionyia dribbles in the first half of Thursday’s loss to the Mustangs. GENEVA HEFFERNAN | ASST. PHOTO EDITOR

six shots against Florida State University on Nov. 24. Obi shot 53.8 percent from the floor, which included two makes in three attempts from 3-point range.

“He has a lot of athleticism, but what he has really worked on since he started playing is his jump shot, and I think that makes a huge difference,” Nnamdi said.

University of Notre Dame junior forward Martinas Geben played with Obi in Amateur Athletic Union basketball and against him in high school.

Geben said Enechionyia was more of a slasher back then but still could shoot from the perimeter.

“Shooting is by far the most useful skill in the game of basketball,” Geben said. “So when you can do it consistently and make shots and have the athleticism that Obi has and the other physical abilities that he does, it makes him an extremely dangerous player to play against on the court.”

Obi is averaging more points, rebounds and blocks than last season. Southern Methodist coach Tim Jankovich said stretch fours like Enechionyia are valuable because they space the floor and let teams run pick-and-pops outside. Enechionyia had 11 rebounds on Thursday for his fifth double-digit performance of the season, something he only did once last season.

After he shot 3-for-11 from the field against Southern Methodist, Enechionyia said he sometimes settles for jump shots and should try to attack the basket more. But eight of his 10 field goal attempts in Sunday’s win against Memphis were 3-pointers.

After his hot start to the season, Enechionyia is ranked as the 57th-best junior in Division I on DraftExpress.com.

“I mean for a shooter, sometimes you get in a slump, you know,” Nnamdi said. “Things happen, but it always comes back. I know he shouldn’t be worried, nobody should be worried. I think he can do the same thing on the NBA level, eventually to be honest.”

Evan Easterling can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.

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