Monday, December 16, 2019 4:02 PM | CBN
By: Liam Blutman
Here I am writing about another talent that came out of Chino Hills and again I’m not writing about a Ball Brother. Familiarize yourself with the name… Onyeka Okongwu. They call him Big O and he’s a 6’9” freshman center at USC and he is simply tearing it up.
At 15 years old, Onyeka lost his older brother Nnamdi, who suffered an awful head injury after falling off a skateboard and was eventually taken off life support just a few days later. Onyeka is looking to make his brother proud by making it to the NBA. Just a few years ago, Onyeka exclaimed, “This is why I work so hard every single day. I want to do something great that he never had the chance to do.” Those who knew Nnamdi can recall him praising Onyeka as a basketball player and telling everybody how good he’s going to be. You can’t possibly root against Onyeka, this is a great kid looking to make Nnamdi and his family proud. When he hears his name called at the NBA Draft in 2020 he’ll have accomplished a dream that he and Nnamdi shared from a young age.
I had high hopes for Big O as I watched him grow as a high school player and transform into a star. I recognized Okongwu at Chino Hills early. While Lonzo was creating highlight after highlight and LaMelo was shining as a little kid playing against elite recruits, I noticed their center put in work every game and yet not get recognized. Who was blocking and contesting every shot at the rim? Who was pulling down every rebound and passing to the outlet? Who was cleaning up the mess if a Ball missed a shot? Big O was truly an unsung hero and he wasn’t talked about nearly enough. He was such an afterthought in fact that he felt disrespected by UCLA as they didn’t recruit him as hard as USC did. Onyeka stated that SC felt like home and made him feel like a priority. That’s why he’s at the crosstown rival of the Bruins. Quite possibly one of the biggest mistakes Steve Alford made while at UCLA was letting Okongwu slip away. But isn’t that what should’ve happened? The afterthought continues to be an afterthought. Who was left off 2020 NBA Draft big boards when he stepped foot on Southern Cal’s campus? The afterthought, Onyeka Okongwu. While NBA front offices are salivating over James Wiseman and casual college basketball fans track Vernon Carey’s dominance, I opt to write about this afterthought.
Onyeka Okongwu is currently averaging 18.4 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, a staggering 3.1 blocks per game and 1.4 steals per game. He’s hitting 62.2% of his shots and shooting 72.1% from the free throw line. The big man is the focal point of the team and that was evident early. His college debut was nuts as he tallied 20 points, 13 rebounds, and a monstrous 8 blocks. His most recent performance featured 28 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block. The kid is good. Against TCU he blocked 7 shots in addition to his 13 points and 6 rebounds. Big O is getting dangerously close to recording a triple-double via points, rebounds, and blocks. Insane.
Here’s what to know about Okongwu’s game. He’s an athletic big that works from the post with good mobility, can move side to side with ease and has a good vertical. Big O has great hands, snatching every board that goes his way and catching all the alley oops. Onyeka is a major threat on the pick and roll as he finishes his PnR’s with monster two handed slams. Don’t sleep on Okongwu’s passing, he won’t pile up assists but he’s a really good passer. He can pass out of the post, he will also grab boards on the defensive and chuck it to the outlet. There’s a phenomenal lead pass Big O made against TCU where he stole the alley oop pass and fired a dot over the defender leading to an easy layup for SC. Defensively, he’s staying put down low and contesting anything in the paint. The freshman is much more mature than most as he’s very patient and times his blocks so well. His anticipation is key to his success. Okongwu is such a good and smart shot blocker, you just have to watch him swat shots. You can see his patience, anticipation, length, intelligence, and mobility all on display when he’s contesting shots! Coordination is key as well, plenty of players his size lack coordination but not him, he’s very coordinated and has no trouble running the floor or blocking shots with his left hand.
Onyeka Okongwu won’t be an afterthought much longer. The future is extremely bright for Big O and I believe he can be a top 5 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He and his friend LaMelo Ball aim to both be selected in the top 5. Just two kids from Chino Hills going their separate ways but both ending up as top 5 picks, wouldn’t that be special?
Onyeka Okongwu could very well be the next dominant big man in the NBA, only time will tell.