On Wednesday, May 25th, Louisville Center Chinanu Onuaku will have to decide if he will remain in this years NBA draft or if he will return to Louisville for his junior season. Everyone has an opinion on his future and I am no different. When I stared as a contributor for Cardinal Sports Zone I said I would always keep it real. I intend to keep it real as I give you my opinion of Onuaku’s future. It’s hard as a fan to remove our selfish desires and look at the whole picture but I intend to do my best.
A lot of us hang on Rick Pitino’s every word and believe everything he says. Rick is prone to hyperbole and often times he sends a message to his team through the media. Pitino recently said that he feels Onuaku will remain in the draft and that next years team will be fine without him. He said “I don’t think it’s going to alter our team’s strength.” Pitino also said Mangok, Anas and Matz would all play center and that would be great for team chemistry. I believe Pitino is just sending a vote of confidence to the guys currently on the team in case Onuaku doesn’t return to school. Pitino also said that if Onuaku returns to Louisville he should come back with the feeling that he needs to work hard to become a lottery pick and not to just come back to take more jumpers. Again, Pitino is sending a message. No matter what anybody says, we all know the ’16-’17 team would be better with Onuaku starting at center. If we all know this then you know Rick knows this too. So basically what I am saying is, don’t put a whole lot of stock into what Pitino says publicly about Onuaku’s decision. Pitino wants what is best for Onuaku but he will give him advise privately and what he says publicly is more of a positive message to next years team.
Ultimately it will come down to what Onuaku wants to do. Some people just want to play in the NBA no matter what team or where they get drafted. Onuaku said to Jeff Greer of the Courier Journal that he had no problem if he had to play in the D League for a while. Onuaku also said he knows that if he came back to school and improves that he could be a lottery pick next year. Currently he is projected to be drafted early in the second round and possibly could sneak into the end of the first round. This years NBA draft is weak and if he comes back and improves he could be faced with the same projected draft position in a much stronger next season.
At 6″10″, 245 pounds with a 9-foot standing reach and a 7′-2 3/4″ wingspan and only 19 years old, Onuaku appears to be a very attractive prospect. The average age of a NBA player is 26.7 years old. That would mean Onuaku could play about 7 years in the NBA before he would be an average age player. That combination of size and age along with how well he has performed in the combine could be enough to get him drafted in the first round. That is significant as far as money and contracts are concerned. While frst-round picks get guaranteed contracts, teams are not obligated to give second-rounders a guaranteed deal. Second round picks have three options after draft day: Work hard and try to fight their way on to an NBA roster, play in the D-League, or play internationally. Of the three, the D-League is the worst. The top salary among all D-League players is approximately $25,000, with the mid-level salary being about $19,000. It seems to me that getting paid $25,000 to play basketball with the possibility to make millions is a pretty good option as a 19-year-old. I was 22 years old while attending The University of Louisville (in 1995) as a junior when I was offered a job making about $50,000 a year. I didn’t hesitate to take the job so I can’t blame any kid for taking the money but I would suggest going back and finishing your degree.
While there are many reasons for Onuaku to go to the NBA there are also reasons for him to stay (besides my desire to see him as a Cardinal again). The few knocks on him about his game is that he gets in foul trouble easily, stamina and his free throw shooting. The NBA average free throw shooting percentage is 75%. Onuaku shot 59% last season. That is an improvement from the previous season where he shot 46.7%. The improvement is due to his change to the “granny style” free throw shot. If he stays in school and improves at the same increment, he would be at about 73% and that is very close to the NBA average. How much does that percentage influence his draft stock? I’m not sure but I would say it probably is a small factor.
The biggest and most recent factor in his draft stock is his heart surgery. Onuaku released a statement saying “After an extensive physical with the NBA doctors over the last few days, they noticed a situation that will require a minor procedure that will keep me off of the court for approximately 7 to 10 days. After the 7-to-10 day window, I will be ready to start my workouts again in pursuit of my NBA dreams.” The situation is a heart rhythm issue called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome that is defined as an extra electrical pathway between your heart’s upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) that causes a rapid heartbeat. It is detected in about 4 out of every 100,000 people (per Mayo Clinic). Although his situation has been corrected through a minor procedure, it might just be enough to scare a few NBA teams and that might allow him to drop in the draft.
Time to keep it real folks, Onuaku has probably played his last game as a Louisville Cardinal. I want him to come back because I believe with him we have a real shot of a final four and a national championship but as a fan of Onuaku the man, I want what is best for him. If he feels entering the NBA draft is best for him then I support him. If he goes then I will just say thank you for your time at Louisville and best of Luck in the NBA.
Should Onuaku stay or go? It’s really not up to us to say what he should do. With an older brother who has bounced around the NBA and also played over seas, his family input will probably be a major factor in his decision. Who else would you turn to when making a life changing decision? That’s right, MOMMA! My guess is Onuaku will talk to the scouts, Pitino, and other NBA people and take all that info to his momma. It’s that simple. We can project and discuss all we want but the final decision will have momma Onuaku’s influence all over it. Momma always know best!
As Always, GO CARDS!