Chinanu Onuaku of Riverdale Baptist bolts up recruit rankings


Riverdale Baptist senior Chinanu Onuaku (left), 16, has turned the heads of many college coaches on the AAU circuit this summer (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post).

When coaches and scouts get to discussing Chinanu Onuaku, it’s a given that several numbers will be thrown around.

There’s the 6-foot-10, 235-pound frame of the Riverdale Baptist forward/center. Onuaku’s 8.2 points per game average is also often cited as evidence of his raw yet evolving offensive skills. And of course, there’s the blocks, a category in which he totaled three per contest last season for the Crusaders with his long arms.

But one number often gets forgotten: 16. That’s how old the rising senior is and it’s one big reason why college coaches are heavily pursuing Onuaku, who obviously has plenty more growing to do.

“This summer is just a part of his natural progression,” Riverdale Baptist Coach Lou Wilson said. “His body is maturing a little bit now and I’m sure it will get more defined as we start our fall training.”

Part of that progression has seen Onuaku assert himself as a offensive threat in the paint. Using his long arms to patrol the paint and gobble up rebounds has always been a part of the lanky yet strong forward/center’s game. But this past summer, Onuaku has worked to complement those skills by turning his soft shooting touch into more offensive success.

“I feel like I’m being more aggressive and playing better inside,” Onuaku said in a Friday phone interview. “I’ve been working on getting my post moves more crisp and focusing on getting my offensive game better.”

These evolving skills will only bolster Onuaku’s recruitment, which has gained great steam since the end of last season. Whispers around the circuit tab Maryland as the front-runner among a list of suitors that includes Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers, Virginia and Virginia Tech, but Onuaku said Friday that he has no favorites at this point.

“I’m open right now,” said Onuaku, whose brother Arinze was a standout player at Episcopal High and Syracuse. “When the summer is over, I plan on cutting my list down to 10 schools and then make my decision after the season.”

When asked about Maryland, he simply said: “I like them.”

No doubt the Terrapins like Onuaku, who would serve as a fine fit for the final scholarship available in Maryland’s 2014 recruiting class. Already in that group are O’Connell senior and D.C. Assault teammate Melo Trimble and Potomac (Md.) swingman Dion Wiley — both of whom have made their plea for Onuaku to join them in College Park.

Whichever school does end up landing Onuaku will likely inherit a player whose offensive game is at an opportune juncture for molding. The process to develop range that stretches beyond the three-point line has been a gradual one for Onuaku, and Wilson says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I’m real pleased that he hasn’t rushed to be the offensive guru that he probably will develop into one day,” Wilson said. “He’s building what I call kind of a Tim Duncan game and some other people say it’s like Dirk Nowitzki, where a player turns, pivots, faces up and shoots over the defender. He’s working on his face-up game and pull-up jumper because a lot of times when the paint is crowded, that’s the best option and Nanu has a nice touch.”

From several evaluations I heard following Onuaku and D.C. Assault’s undefeated run to the 17U title at the Under Armour Summer Jam in Milwaukee last week, he proved to be a force inside. Onuaku dominated the boards with more than 10 rebounds per game and protected the rim in a way that helped Assault muster a comeback in the championship game. Onuaku’s value often comes into play after a block or rebound, when he sparks transition opportunities that he himself is nimble enough to run the floor and finish.

“His court awareness is very, very good at such a young age,” Wilson said. “On defense, he’s a great shot blocker and mindful of help-side defense, and on offense, he has the capability of making plays by rebounding and throwing a long outlet pass or rebounding and dribbling the ball up himself.”

Onuaku is back in action this week with D.C. Assault at the Fab 48 tournament in Las Vegas, after which the 16-year-old plans to rest until resuming training in the fall at Riverdal Baptist. Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon and assistant Dalonte Hill are expected to be in attendance in Vegas, and while their desire to reel Onuaku into their 2014 recruiting class is already high, the push could grow stronger should they see more of Onuaku’s developing post moves.

“When he gets the ball solo in the post, he can go to work,” Wilson said. “He can power dribble into the lane and shoot a baby hook or work the baseline. Those moves have always been in his arsenal and we’ve been working on it now for two or three years in practice. Now we’re just working more and beginning to see those moves translate into game situations, and that’s exciting.”

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