CRAWFORD | Pitino to Louisville freshman Onuaku: 'I need you now - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pitino to Louisville freshman Onuaku: 'I need you now'

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Louisville Athletics photo by Jeff Reinking. See a full photo gallery from the game at Louisville Athletics photo by Jeff Reinking. See a full photo gallery from the game at
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The plan for center Chinanu Onuaku as he headed into his freshman season at the University of Louisville was to proceed slowly.

The first sign that Cardinals' coach Rick Pitino might alter the plan came over the summer, when the coach reported that Onuaku had "completely transformed" his body during offseason workouts. He was out of shape when he came to Louisville in the spring for the Derby Festival All-Star Classic. But this fall, the 6-10 Onuaku was a chiseled 6-10 and 230 pounds.

Still, there wasn't much thought that he'd fill anything but a support role until the real practices began. On Monday, Pitino delivered a different message to the big man, who now has started the first two games of his U of L career.

"We had a very brief conversation today," Pitino said. "I said son, look, I'm going to tell you the way it is. We're going to play a bear of a schedule. We wanted to play you 12 or 16 minutes (a game) and bring you along slowly. But I don't have that luxury. I need you to be a killer out there, and I need you to do it now. I've got to have you become a big-time player in your freshman year. And I thought tonight from an effort standpoint he was a big-time player, even though he overmatched his opponent."

Onuaku, whom Pitino calls "Nanu," posted the first double-double of his U of L career, 12 points, 10 rebounds, in an 88-39 pounding of undersized Jacksonville Monday night. It was a long way from his first start, in which he fouled out in only eight minutes of action against a much bigger Minnesota team.??He comes from a basketball family. His brother, Arinze Onuaku, played for Syracuse from 2005-10 and opened this season on the New Orleans Pelicans roster. He set the single-season field goal percentage record for Syracuse with 66.7 percent as a senior.

Chinanu, a native of Lanham, Md., and a first-team All-Metro pick as a high school senior by The Washington Post, listed in his preseason questionnaire that his "personal goal at U of L" was to "start as a freshman. Few thought it would happen this quickly.

Pitino said he likes Onuaku's passing, particularly on the interior. He also shows good hands, and is picking up his defensive assignments.

"(Former assistant) Kevin Keatts told me when he was recruiting him, `Coach, this guy can really pass the basketball. He's got a good feel for the game,'" Pitino said. "And I said `Really? With that body?' and he said `Yes. He's a really good passer'. And he is a great interior passer. He really sees things very well."

Now, Pitino said, Onuaku just needs to get more minutes to get himself ready for the challenges coming.

"I think just getting the feel for the college game," he said. "I think he's a very good passer. He came in here in absurd shape. You all watched him when he came in here in the Derby Classic. And he wasn't in good shape, so he got in good shape. He's very strong, he knows the game mentally. He understands the game."

Said Onuaku: "I think I've grown a lot. During games they'll tell me where I'm making mistakes and I'll try to fix it.  And watching film you learn. I'm catching up to the speed of the college game. . . . I'm just glad I'm getting this opportunity."

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