To come up with a former protégé who he felt was as athletic as his four-star freshman forward out of Springfield, Virginia, Fran Dunphy recalled a name from more than a decade ago.
Until Obi Enechionyia joined his Temple team this season, Dunphy said he had not coached a big man who could play the low post, defend and shoot the 3-point jump shot since he guided two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Ugonna Onyekwe from 1999-2003 during his 17-year tenure with the University of Pennsylvania.
“He was one of those guys that was pretty good inside and out. He was very athletic, like Obi,” Dunphy said of Onyekwe, who averaged 14.9 points per game in four seasons at Penn before an eight-year professional career overseas.
With a 6-foot-9-inch, 220-pound frame, Enechionyia sports a similar build to Onyekwe, along with a liking of the 3-point shot, as he’s shooting 8-for-26 beyond the arc.
His transition into the college game has been gradual, as he has started four games and averaged 18.1 minutes per game for a 15-7 Temple squad. It took Enechionyia a month to eclipse double-digit scoring totals in a single game, and has yet to pull in more than eight rebounds in a contest.
But, Dunphy’s lone 2014 recruit has contributed productive minutes in big games.
His first double-digit scoring performance came in a 10-point showing at then-No. 7 Villanova, while he had his eight-rebound game in Temple’s 25-point defeat of then-No. 10 Kansas. He knocked down three baskets in Temple’s four-point win against Connecticut on New Year’s Eve, and scored 14 points in a losing effort to Cincinnati.
Furthermore, he did it all while coming off the bench.
“I think I’m getting the hang of the physicality [of the college game] and stuff like that,” Enechionyia said. “Every game, it’s getting easier and easier. … I’ve had a couple games where I think I played pretty well.”
Inserted off the bench for junior center Devontae Watson periodically through Temple’s 55-37 victory against Tulane University on Saturday, Enechionyia reminded the 7,254 people in attendance why he was an ESPN Top 100-rated recruit. He showed flashes of his potential on both sides of the perimeter with two 3-pointers and 12 points, while drawing unified reactions from the crowd on each of his three blocks in a game in which Temple held Tulane to eight points in the first half – a Liacouras Center record.
“Our defense in the first half was incredible,” junior guard Quenton DeCosey said. “Everybody did a good job and really locked down on defense. We were getting three or four stops in a row. We did a great job.”
Interestingly enough, Enechionyia failed to score more than four points and never had more than five rebounds in his four-game stretch in the starting lineup from Jan. 4-14. His knack of finding foul trouble by the late stages of games, though, landed him back on the bench in favor of Watson, Dunphy said.
“We need him at the end of games because he adds that spark,” Dunphy said. “He’s got great athleticism, he can block a shot, he’s pretty mobile and when we have a lead, we can switch with him. He can guard perimeter guys better than the rest of our bigs. He’s getting better.”
After experiencing both sides of the lineup through his first 22 games as an Owls, Enechionyia said he’s comfortable right where he is.
“Right now, to be honest, I think I feel better coming off the bench,” Enechionyia said. “I like bringing energy to the team when we’re kind of down, when everyone’s getting tired. I can come in and bring energy defensively.”
The numbers indicate it, as he’s averaging 5.2 ppg in his 18 games left out of the starting lineup, while he scored 2.5 ppg on average in his four appearances as a starter.
When told of his freshman forward’s feelings toward his bench role, Dunphy obliged.
“Well, if he says that and he’s comfortable with that, then I’m OK with that,” Dunphy said. “Whatever [Enechionyia] says is OK by me. But, he has to be ready when his minutes come and I thought [Saturday] he was very much ready and he made some big shots for us. I think he can do a little better on the defensive end and he can catch the ball better, but I like where he’s heading.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23