If he could have followed his childhood dream, Obi Enechionyia’s name wouldn’t be printed on a Temple jersey, nor would he be pursuing sport on a basketball court.
“I wanted to be a pro soccer player,” the freshman forward said. “I didn’t play basketball until eighth grade, and I wasn’t good. I was a benchwarmer the whole year.”
Enechionyia made his way from riding the pine to being one of the conference’s most highly-touted recruits through one facet of his game: athleticism. A universally transferable asset from the pitch to the court, the Owls’ lone freshman has used his skillset to turn heads on a roster that features nine upperclassmen.
“He’s an athletic freak,” senior guard Will Cummings said. “He caught a lob one day and we stopped practice for a minute. It was that type of play.”
“I just went up and got it,” Enechionyia said. “We had a water break after that.”
The product of St. James School in Maryland might be wise to down-play his accomplishments and tailor expectations. Coach Fran Dunphy has a reputation for limiting the minutes of freshmen, regardless of success in high school. This squad’s highest-rated Temple recruit before Enechionyia, redshirt-sophomore forward Daniel Dingle, played 3.8 minutes per game during his freshman campaign.
Enechionyia said that while he was aware of the usual outcomes for freshmen, it did not factor into his decision-making process, nor did he consider redshirting.
“I knew that’s how it has been in the past, but I saw myself differently,” Enechionyia said. “I know a lot of guys who don’t get playing time as a freshman, but it’s all on you. [Dunphy] said before I committed, that if I worked hard enough, I would be able to get on the floor and help the team.”
For Dunphy, it will take consistency for the freshman forward to stay in the game.
“I’m going to put him in the game, if he does well he stays in the game,” Dunphy said. “My goals are that he is going to be a significant guy in our program. He’s a terrific guy to have and I’m happy to have him.”
Officially listed at 6-foot-9-inches and 220 pounds, Enechionyia said his measurable frame does not include his nearly two-inch afro, nor do they do justice to the multiple facets of his game. He described himself as being able to play near the basket as well as an option for longer-range shots, an element he has focused on in the offseason.
Entering a team that is without its most dependable big man in recent years following the transfer of Anthony Lee, Dunphy said his vision for the freshman hasn’t changed.
“We need him to be a really good rebounder, a really good position defender and get his offensive opportunities,” Dunphy said. “It’s a tremendous adjustment to go from high school to college but he’s doing it as well as he possibly can.”
Enechionyia’s long wingspan and jumping ability may bring flashbacks to 6-foot-6 Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who played a similar position for the Owls from 2009-13. However, teammates said a direct comparison to Hollis-Jefferson, or any player, is impossible.
“He’s different from any of the guys that were on the past teams,” Cummings said. “He’s going to be a matchup problem as he learns the system. I really can’t compare him to anybody, he’s a mixture of a couple of guys, super athletic, crashes the glass, can shoot jump shots. He is his own player.”
The biggest learning adjustment for Enechionyia’s game will most likely be his ability to mesh with the team, and the collegiate game in general. When the season starts Nov. 14, Enechionyia will be six years removed from the time when his highest level of organized basketball was his school’s recess period.
The athleticism he possesses has allowed Enechionyia to compensate for his lack of experience in the sport. The forward admits that during the first years of high school, Enechionyia was sometimes out of position in an offense catered to his skill set. Now, he is in a faster environment, and must support, not lead, the team.
Still, the lauded recruit has landed himself on Temple’s roster after playing five years of organized basketball. With more experience, Enechionyia could become even more dangerous as his abilities are uncovered, and his game develops.
“I hear that a lot,” Enechionyia said. “People say I have a lot of potential because I have only played for a few years. I started after a lot of these guys so I had to do a lot more to catch up. For me I think the sky’s the limit to be honest. I think I have a lot of potential, I just need to work hard to get there.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reahced at email@example.com and on twitter @ibrahimjacobs