With ever-increasing competition from underclassmen and high schoolers, it has become much tougher for seniors entering the NBA Draft to get selected. But one Ivy League senior has high hopes of hearing his name called from the podium June 26.
Last weekend, while most graduating basketball players pondered life off the court, the University of Pennsylvania’s Ugonna Onyekwe was one of 64 seniors invited to a pre-draft camp in Portsmouth, Va. Starting in each of his team’s three games, Onyekwe averaged 10.7 points and eight rebounds, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported Monday. One Eastern Conference scout said the Penn forward’s performance should be enough to qualify him for another pre-draft camp in Chicago June 3 to 6.
Since the beginning of the season, fans, coaches and players have debated whether or not the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year will become the first Ancient Eight player to be selected in the NBA Draft since Penn’s Jerome Allen in 1995. A four-year guard at Penn, Allen was selected 49th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“[Onyekwe] definitely has a future in professional basketball,” Quaker head coach Fran Dunphy said Saturday.
According to NBADraft.net, Onyekwe could be a late second-round pick. Each of the two rounds has 29 picks.
Onyekwe did not return messages left before the Portsmouth camp last week.
At 6 feet 8 inches and 230 pounds, Onyekwe used his size and athleticism to dominate the Ivy League. He ended his collegiate career in March with career averages of 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds and is the ninth all-time career scorer in the Ivy League. In two close games against Yale this year, the Penn power forward combined for 37 points and 13 rebounds.
The question is whether Onyekwe — a marketing major at the Wharton business school — can market himself as an NBA big man or small forward. He might not be big enough to play power forward in the NBA, and his outside shooting may need to improve for him to be effective at the small forward position.
Ime Archibong ’03, who played against Onyekwe nine times over the last four seasons, said most of Onyekwe’s points came off the block, posting beside the basket.
Archibong’s teammate Matt Minoff ’04 was more optimistic about Onyekwe’s pro potential.
“He’s [got] a good jump shot, good post moves, and not too many guys his height have his athleticism or touch around the rim,” Minoff said.
At Yale this year, Onyekwe’s aggressiveness on defense was questionable; he was outmuscled by Yale centers T.J. McHugh ’03 and Justin Simon ’04, who combined for 29 points.
A few weeks before he was named an All-American Honorable Mention, Onyekwe took advantage of his final opportunity to showcase his versatility before a national audience. On March 21, he tied his career scoring high (30 points) in a 77-63 loss to Oklahoma State in the NCAA tournament’s first round. Not only did he prove he could score against a top Division-I team, but he also showed he could take his game outside the key. Onyekwe shot 9-for-9 from the foul line and 1-for-2 from behind the 3-point line.
“He shot it extremely well [against OSU],” Dunphy said. “When he shoots it well, his scoring is extraordinary.”
Dunphy also said Onyekwe was a very disciplined student-athlete, “dedicated to his schoolwork and basketball.” While potential talent is number one on a scout’s checklist, Onyekwe’s work ethic and coachability may help separate him from other young players.
If he does not makes an NBA roster through the draft or an invitation to try out for an NBA team, Dunphy said his former player could certainly play overseas.